I took a whirlwind trip to west Michigan to see my friends at the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company perform my favorite Shakespearean comedy in one of my favorite venues—the Rose, a Globe-style theater at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

Being back at the Rose was just magical. That space has a lively energy, like it wants something to happen.

One thing that is always extra special about the Rose is that I always see people I know. I spotted actors I’ve worked with in the past, people from Michigan homeschooling groups I’ve connected with and introduced to the company, venue hosts and volunteers who return year after year. I imagine this must be what it was actually like to go to the theater in Shakespeare’s time—we’re interested in the show, of course, but we’re also checking out the audience. A place to see and be seen.

As with other shows I’ve seen this summer, the overwhelming feeling, from actors and audience alike, was deep joy. People have been so joyful at being in spaces together again. Even on this beautiful weekend, though, the joy had a dark undercurrent I hadn’t sensed at the other shows I saw over the summer. The show was the last weekend in August; COVID numbers were skyrocketing again; we all knew that the halcyon reprieve was coming to an end. Much like Twelfth Night itself—joy, with the gathering awareness that the rain it raineth everyday.

Although the company was fully vaccinated, several shows at other companies had been shut down due to breakthrough infections the week before, so the actors wore masks for the performance. It’s to their great credit that they made the text both audible and understandable even with half their faces covered. I’ve been impressed with how thoughtful PCSC has been about COVID safety through this long and difficult time. This performance, their first in-person event in a year and half, was clearly no exception.

I took very few pictures, and none of them good, sorry. Too busy watching the show.

This was an ensemble-directed production, a remount from their 2019 tour. The cut was well-balanced; each storyline had a similar amount of stage time and emphasis. Twelfth Night generally lends itself to strong ensemble work, and PCSC’s history of ensemble practice made it a good fit.

Seraphina Zorn, as Viola, brought a brilliant energy to the role. I particularly enjoyed the way her liveliness contrasted with Ashley Normand’s laconic Orsino. Even in moments where some actors lose Viola’s brightness in her grief, Seraphina managed to hold both at once. When she was doing the part about “My father had a daughter loved a man / As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman / I should your lordship,” although her hopeless unrequited love was at the forefront, I still heard a glimmer of—I’m not sure what, exactly… hopeful bemusement? Faith in possibility? Relentless optimism? Whatever is the most Viola thing about Viola, that was still there, even in moments where she is in an impossible situation. I should also note that I’m extremely biased and picky about portrayals of Viola; out of the whole canon, she’s the character I identify with the most. Seraphina got the essence of what makes Viola special, and never lost track of that fundamental identity.

One of my favorite choices in this production was casting Chaz Albright as Sebastian. Chaz and Seraphina don’t look anything alike, at all (I mean, they’re both white people, but that’s where the similarities end). The magic of Twelfth Night is that it doesn’t matter—if everyone onstage declares that they can’t tell them apart, then they are identical. I honestly think it works better when the actors do not look alike. The audience is invited to participate in the imagination event. When the “twins” look very similar, I find that I pick apart the minor differences between them, which is distracting. When they look different, I just accept that they are indistinguishable.

I hadn’t seen Maggie Hinckley onstage before, although I knew her a bit. Her Olivia was very warm and kind, which I think made her household also seem warm. Nobody at Olivia’s was mean-spirited, they just got out of hand sometimes.

Kat Hermes played Malvolia, a regendered version of the household steward. I normally am not a fan of regendering characters, but in this particular case, it was a strong choice. Malvolia was endearing and had incredible pathos. It added a layer to the prank story line that I hadn’t ever considered. The development of that storyline was clear and deliberate. I appreciated the journey it took me on. The box tree scene had me weeping with laughter—it was extremely well-played. But the scene with Sir Topaz and the dark room felt like a hate crime. Even Sir Toby (Scott Wright) understood that it had gone too far, and he wanted it to end.

Brooke Heintz came in as a last-minute substitution for Maria. I didn’t realize she hadn’t been in the original production (or that she was working with a broken foot!). She and Scott had played these roles together a decade ago, so they were returning to a character relationship they had built previously. One thing I loved about this production was how much affection I saw between them even early on. Even when Maria scolds Toby for being loud and drunk, it was with genuine love and concern. In some productions, their marriage at the end feels like a random surprise. In this one, it made total sense.

This was a strong ensemble, and a very fun Twelfth Night. It was well worth the trip. I can hardly wait to see these folks on stage again. May it be soon.

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