The event reviewed here has ended, but please continue reading. To support current and upcoming events, visit the organization’s website for more information.

So . . . the language of Shakespeare, it goes without saying, is pungent and mellifluous, and for those in modern times who have studied the text, hearing it onstage can be a wondrous thing indeed. For those who have not, theatrical performances can be challenging if the intent behind the words is not conveyed meaningfully in other ways by its interpreters. Of course, the same goes for the performance of any playwright’s work, assuming the company doesn’t want its audience members slipping out at intermission or, heaven forbid, checking their cell phones every five minutes.

The rich Cal Poly Theatre & Dance production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, meets this challenge head-on, and thanks to meticulous direction and obvious roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-it hard work on the part of everyone involved, succeeds in entertaining all who would venture into Spanos Theatre on the Cal Poly campus to enjoy one of the Bard’s most-produced and most-loved comedies.

Guest director Peter Hadres, well-known and much appreciated by local audiences for his on- and off-stage roles at PCPA, has managed to corral 16 actors of diverse voice and acting experience into an accessible, enjoyable, and altogether coherent production. He doesn’t do it alone, however, and his supporting crew deserves special mention for surrounding and supporting the actors with some very well-coordinated designs that help provide a uniting force for the action of the play.

Scenic designer and technical director Clint Bryson, as well as lighting designers Brian Healy and Madeline Webb, have done an outstanding job of constructing a multi-level, all-in-one set that when re-arranged just a bit and lighted just so, produces the myriad settings needed for the plot to play out. They are handily assisted by Jacqueline Yeung, Olivia McNulty, and a host of scene builders and painters who most certainly will benefit from what they learn from these experts.

Costume designer Rylee Terry worked with mentor Thomas John Bernard to create quite a smorgasbord of “Illyrian” costumes that reflect the mostly mid-1800s Greek (with some Turkish and Croation influences) period in which Hadres has chosen to set this production. Colorful, playful, and appropriate to each character, the wardrobe taken as a whole is a bit chaotic, but certainly serves the actors well, especially when Malvolio attempts to impress his mistress Olivia with his garters.

Also serving the actors and the audience well are the ditties provided by composer/musical director George Walker (also a PCPA favorite) for Feste (played by Michaela Sadler) who, as the play’s “fool” contributes wit and wisdom (“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”—multiple times). Feste also takes on various roles, and Sadler is best when voicing sly comments on the play’s gender-confusing (and in this case, gender-bending) roles.

Viola (Jacquelyn Morales) is of course the primary gender-confuser, and Morales deserves praise for her earnest and well-modulated performance. Maya Sjoblom-Powell as Olivia, Isabel Eileen Hadley as Maria, and John DeVries as Sir Toby Belch each prove to have a well-rounded grasp on their characters. Then there are the two real fools of the play, Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, both played for well-deserved laughs by Jordan Bates and Gibson Witz, respectively.

In Shakespeare’s day, Twelfth Night was a holiday festival in which everything was turned upside down. This upending—and the sense of celebration—is well reflected here. Even if you are a bit Shakespeare-shy, you will find yourself well able to go with the flow of antics and jokes and sense of merriment in this solid and entertaining production.

:: Charlotte Alexander