Shakespeare was queering the narrative before that term even existed. So it makes sense that Midsommer Flight’s seventh annual production of Twelfth Night at the Lincoln Park Conservatory goes all-in on genderqueer playfulness this year—especially with queerness under attack from so many quarters.
Bex Ehrmann’s staging amid the purple-and-lavender Nutcracker-themed decorations in the conservatory’s Show House Room features a cast with several trans and nonbinary performers. It’s also a streamlined and smart take on the story of Viola, a survivor of a shipwreck that she believes took the life of her twin, Sebastian. Upon arriving on the coast of Illyria, she disguises herself as Cesario, a boy servant in the home of lovelorn Duke Orsino, who seeks the hand of Olivia, who is also mourning the death of a brother and wants none of the duke’s expressions of ardor.
Twelfth Night Through 12/18: Thu-Sun 7:30 PM, Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 Stockton Dr., midsommerflight.com, pay what you can
But she does find herself drawn to Cesario, and in Ehrmann’s telling, Viola (Maddy Shilts) is also more intrigued by her anagrammatic double, Olivia (Ebby Offord), than by the somewhat stuffy and presumptuous Orsino (John Drea). “Tell me what you thinkst of me,” Offord’s Olivia asks Shilts’s Viola, to which the latter replies, “That you do think you are not what you are.” It applies just as well to Viola herself.
Amid the growing awareness of their attraction for each other, the show also features the delightful comic plotting of Reginald Hemphill’s aptly named Sir Toby Belch and Travis Shanahan’s hapless Sir Andrew Aguecheek against Rusty Allen’s stuffed shirt Malvolio, manservant to Olivia, and the comic and musical stylings of North Rory Homewood’s observant jester, Feste. A preshow songfest, featuring quirky numbers like Sandi Thom’s “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair”) lets the entire ensemble show off their musical skills.