by Alec Clayton
What better way to welcome theater lovers to the newly named Squaxin Park (formerly Priest Point Park) than a riotous evening of Shakespeare at sunset? It’s even better on a grassy slope with a scrim of trees and a peek of Puget Sound in the background. The play is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, one of the bard’s most hilarious comedies.
As director Rachel Permann, who plays the role of Maria, says in a program note, “We chose this play because it’s fun and totally implausible, and it’s the perfect antidote to the past two years, which have largely been not fun and totally implausible.”
Permann’s repeated word “implausible” describes all of Shakespeare’s comedies, which typically include cross-dressing, characters pretending to be people they’re not, nasty tricks played on other characters, and men and women falling desperately in love with people who are in love with someone else. Twelfth Night is no exception.
The play begins with a shipwreck off the coast of Illyria, where Viola (Paige Doyle) and her twin brother Sebastian (David Shoffner) find themselves separated. Sebastian is missing and presumed dead. Viola goes ashore, disguises herself as a man – “Cesario” – and becomes a servant to Duke Orsino (Scott Douglas), who is in love with Countess Olivia. Olivia, upon meeting Viola – who is disguised as Cesario – falls in love with her, thinking she is a man. Orsino then uses Cesario (i.e., Viola) as an intermediary to profess his love for Olivia.
In a loosely connected subplot, Sir Toby Belch (Brian Hatcher), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (K.E. Jenkins) and Lady Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, Maria, convince Malvolio (Drew Doyle) that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a love letter written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. It asks Malvolio to woo Olivia by wearing yellow stockings, which Olivia actually detests. Doyle plays the pompous and not incredibly smart Malvolio with just the right balance of outlandishness and restraint.
Hatcher plays the loud, fun-loving, mischievous Toby Belch with verve and joy. Jenn Zuko, as Olivia’s jester, displays a cornucopia of moves and expressions, and Permann’s Maria laughs often and so infectiously it spreads like wildfire to cast and audience.
This production of Twelfth Night has all the advantages and disadvantages of an outdoor play — a casual setting, passing cars, weather and a barking dog or two. Feel free to bring blankets or folding chairs, food, drink, even pets.
At the recommendation of Olympia city manager Jay Burney and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, Olympia approved a resolution on April 25 of this year to change of the name of Priest Point Park to Squaxin Park in recognition of the Squaxin Island Tribe’s historical habitation of Olympia’s environs.
“It’s hard to pinpoint when the conversations about the park’s name first started with the Squaxin Island Tribe,” said Sylvana Niehuser, director of parks planning and maintenance for Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation. “My understanding is it’s been part of casual conversations for many years, both between the two councils and between staff members. Changing the name seemed to gain momentum from both parties as the renewal of the accord between the two government bodies, Squaxin Council and Olympia Council, was in process.”
The Squaxin Island Tribe’s inhabitance of what is now Olympia spans thousands of years. Ancestral families who lived and thrived here named the area Steh-Chass and occupied prosperous villages all along the shores and inlets of lower Puget Sound. Archeological findings of ancestral artifacts in the area suggest habitation by Squaxin ancestors since the retreat of the glaciers during the last Ice Age.
Squaxin Island history also indicates the tribe valued the area for ready access to fresh and salt water, the abundant salmon from the creeks, and rich clam beds. The park was later named Priest Point by white settlers, after a small group of Catholic missionaries who came to the area in 1848 and maintained a mission there for many years.
Renaming Squaxin Park recognizes the area as a place of importance to the past, present and future of the tribe.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will
6:30 p.m. Fridays – Sundays through Sept. 4
Squaxin Park, 2600 East Bay Drive NE
Free; donations accepted