Undaunted by the June monsoons that have dogged the Triangle’s outdoor productions in 2003, the Cary Players under the dynamic direction of Herman LeVern Jones presented an entertaining production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will (1601-02) on June 8th at the Sertoma Outdoor Amphitheatre in Fred G. Bond Metro Park in Cary, NC. Taking its title from Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany, which falls on January 6th (i.e., the 12th day after Christmas), this classic comedy of romance and mistaken identity is one of the finest plays by Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616). (Twelfth Night was also known as the Feast of Fools in the heyday of the immortal Bard.)

Cary Players co-founder and president Herman Jones assembled an outstanding cast for this community-theater production and schooled them well in the fine points of Shakespearean diction and stagecraft. Last Sunday afternoon, a sparse but enthusiastic audience which had to drive through a series of showers to get to the Sertoma Outdoor Amphitheatre rewarded this brisk-paced production with spontaneous applause after virtually every scene. For once, the weather was cooperative, even if the boom from jets flying overhead drowned out a speech here or there.

Not only did he assemble a capable cast, but producer/director Herman Jones skillfully put them through their paces. Technical director and lighting and scenic designer Neil Williamson provided an adequate set to represent several locations in the fictional country of Illyria, and costume designer David Willem Serxner created an eye-catching array of Renaissance costumes that together make the Cary Players’ presentation of Twelfth Night one of the best-dressed community-theater period productions of Shakespeare seen in these parts in recent memory.

Cute-as-a-button Lynne Guglielmi and swashbuckling Brian Graves were amusing as Viola and Sebastian, a pair of identical twins separated by shipwreck off the coast of Illyria and each thinking the other dead. David Bland was good as the lovelorn Duke Orsino, but Jennifer Lukas Joyner was better as the disdainful Countess Olivia, who repeatedly rejects the Duke’s romantic overtures but almost instantly falls in love with his latest messenger: “Cesario” (Viola disguised in men’s clothes).

Wilson Pietzsch is a stitch as the drunkard Sir Toby Belch, and a juggling Thom Haynes is hilarious as the prissy Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Debra Grannan delighted the audience with her machinations as Olivia’s conniving gentlewoman in waiting Maria, and Kathryn Jenkins Smith (in false beard and male attire) was good as Olivia’s servant Fabian.

Fight director Steve Whetzel made an exceptionally dashing and charismatic Antonio, and Matt Schedler suffered the repeated humiliations of Olivia’s conceited steward Malvolio with a crowd-pleasing mixture of bewilderment and righteous indignation. But assistant director Kurt Benrud stole the show with his wonderfully wicked impersonation of Feste, Olivia’s cheeky jester and a prime mover in much of the monkey business that made the Cary Players’ high-spirited production of Twelfth Night such a treat.