Cameron Cobane as Antonio and Geof Dolman as Sir Toby Belch.
Zachary P. Stephens
Cameron Cobane as Antonio and Geof Dolman as Sir Toby Belch.

A tragicomedy where anything goes

Vermont Theatre Company presents Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’

BRATTLEBORO — Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, is slated as the Vermont Theatre Company's (VTC) annual outdoor production presented in collaboration with, and at, Retreat Farm.

Twelfth Night,” a VTC media release explains, “tells the tale of Viola, who's been tragically separated from her twin brother, Sebastian, during a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as a boy and works for Duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia, and sends Viola to court her for him, but Olivia falls for Viola instead. Sebastian arrives, causing a flood of mistaken identity. In short, Viola thinks her brother is dead. He thinks that she is dead. Everyone thinks that she is her brother. Everyone thinks that her brother is she. Shenanigans ensue.”

Shakespeare's subtitle for Twelfth Night, ... or What You Will, refers to the 12th night of Christmas, the eve of the feast day commemorating the visit of the Magi to the newborn Jesus - Epiphany. Twelfth Night is often celebrated with a suspension of rules and social orders, the overturning of convention, and all-around good fun.

It's a Medieval tradition Shakespeare would have been familiar with writing in the late-16th, early-17th century - revelers singing and dancing, drinking and eating king cake and other special treats, defacing doors with chalk, and generally behaving against the grain.

According to, one of the most popular Twelfth Night traditions was to hide a pea and a bean within the cake. The lady who found the pea would be Lady or Queen of Misrule; the man who discovered the bean would be proclaimed Lord or King of Misrule, usually a peasant or commoner who led the drinking and debauchery. “Twelfth Night was one of the few times of the year where servants were allowed to mix with their masters, sometimes even switching roles through disguises.” In short, the Twelfth Night buzz line? “Anything goes!”

The VTC production will take this to the hilt, according to director Michelle Page. VTC's president for four of the last 12 years she's served on its board, Page hails from Connecticut, where her love for theater grew from when she worked with Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown, through high school working with good mentors, and even through a stint in professional theater.

A graduate of Castleton University, Page is a math teacher at Brattleboro Union High School, where she has produced musicals and assisted with direction of the annual spring production.

Page says Twelfth Night is her favorite Shakespearean comedy, having acted in it twice and assistant-directed it. More a fan of the tragedies, she says, the language and characters of Twelfth Night are beautiful and compelling in an often borderline-tragic way. Moreover, she says, a bit tongue in cheek, “it's a poorly written comedy”: its poignancy and depth often trump the humor.

Of her overarching production concept, Page explains, “instead of focusing on a specific time period, I've focused on the story and on how the actors and their personalities will bring each character vividly to life to tell it.” The costumes are as eclectic as the characters in this production, she says. Some actors are in “Elizabethan pirate shirts,” another is in a French maid's outfit. Even so, she notes it all makes sense. “It's cohesive.”

Played at Retreat Farm, Page intends to take advantage of the outdoor stage and lawn, augmenting it to become a three-quarter thrust configuration. “I want to utilize the beautiful lawn,” Page says, and the elements that nature offers. The character Olivia's house is on stage, for instance, but her garden is outside those confines.

Seeing Shakespeare outside, Page offers, is a different experience. People can relax on a field with food, family, friends, and have a great time with the characters and their quirks.

“This is a queer-friendly show,” Page says. Noting the instances of cross-dressing in the play, she adds: “We've been trying to be really respectful of the queer community so much so that we've actually changed some pronouns in the show.” Many cast members are part of that community, “and so we've been trying to be respectful making sure we take this show in a direction that is inclusive and comfortable for all.”

The cast features Aubrey Clowndinst as Viola, Mariah Palmer as Countess Olivia, Isaiah LaPierre as Duke Orsino, and Phoebe Okoomian as Feste the Clown. The cast also includes Cameron Cobane, Geof Dolman, Ruben Ray Garza, Eden Gorst, Olivia McNeely, Michelle Page, Avellana Ross, and Elliot Vigue.

Kyle Girard will be acting and offering incidental music throughout the show, and Cobane is fight choreographer.

Cast member McNeely says of the production: “Although this play is centuries old [...], the characters are still absolutely recognizable. The play doesn't have a villain lurking in the background [...] but almost every character in Twelfth Night becomes their own worst enemy at some point in the story. They all have extremely hate-able and extremely sympathetic moments; if I can personally get the audience to walk away feeling at least a little bad for Malvolia (despite how snobby and rude she is), I've succeeded.”

LaPierre adds: “I'd say that: Twelfth Night - with its disguises, love triangles, and mischief - is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays because it's hilarious, queer, and seems to explore not only how we love one another, but why we do.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates