“Twelfth Night” works either way. However you cast it, Shakespeare’s most delectable comedy is all about gender confusion — as director Michelle Hensley’s graceful and often hilarious staging makes perfectly clear.
Featuring a cast of Shakespeare stalwarts, the show opened Friday at Intersection, where it continues through March 2. Hensley’s stripped-down staging is made to travel, and the company will take it to various homeless shelters, detention centers and other nontraditional venues in the coming weeks.
Seven actresses play all the parts in this wistful tale of love lost and found. Cindy Im does a deft double turn as Viola and Sebastian, the shipwrecked twins who wash up on the shores of Ilyria. Watching Im make quick changes between the two characters is one of the pleasures of Hensley’s production.
Viola, disguised as a young man named Cesario, lands in the court of Orsino (an agile Rami Margron, who also plays the servant Maria), becoming the lovesick count’s emissary to the Countess Olivia (a wonderfully down-to-earth Maria Candelaria).
Olivia falls in love with Cesario, Viola with Orsino — and so the romantic confusion at the heart of “Twelfth Night” begins.
The play’s broadly comic scenes are just as capably handled, with Catherine Castellanos as a sly, wisecracking Toby Belch, and Patty Gallagher as the dim-witted courtier Andrew Aguecheek. Sarita Ocon, strumming a ukulele and singing a few songs as Feste, returns as Sebastian’s bosom buddy, Antonio.
At the center of the cast is Nancy Carlin’s excellent Malvolio. Carlin’s starchy demeanor and scarcely contained spite make the puritanical manservant’s eventual comeuppance seem all the more fitting.
Hensley, artistic director of the Minneapolis-based classics theater Ten Thousand Things, emphasizes distinct characterizations and clarity in the text. Musician Olive Mitra supplies live atmospheric sound.
There are no sets to speak of, just a few simple chairs, arches, and props that the actors move on and off. The simplicity of Hensley’s staging places the emphasis on the play and the performances. Her staging just goes to show that “Twelfth Night” doesn’t need a lavish production — or a cast of any particular gender.
Presented by the California Shakespeare Theater
Where: Intersection for the Arts, 925 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org