The Guthrie Theater’s “Twelfth Night” seems designed more to create memorable moments than to convey a narrative arc, so I’ll list my favorite moments:
• The most entertaining turn-off-your-cellphone announcement I’ve ever witnessed, involving Luverne Seifert and surprises I won’t reveal.
• Sun Mee Chomet abruptly dropping to her butt to indicate her character, Olivia’s, great surprise.
• Suggested by a mention that a character named Malvolio seems “possessed,” a ridiculous exorcism is performed by one character who is dolled up in a Buck Owens-like spangly cowboy suit (Sally Wingert) and another who whinnies like the Wicked Witch of the West (Sarah Jane Agnew).
• As Malvolio, droll Jim Lichtscheidl assumes the snitty tone of a hotel clerk who knows your room is available for early check-in but has decided not to let you do it anyway.
• Later, as the result of a practical joke, Malvolio dons a horrific get-up and, to show how good he thinks he looks in it, he glides into an “America’s Next Top Model”-style signature runway walk.
• A thrilling storm at sea is indicated by Yi Zhao’s lighting, Sartje Pickett’s sound design and scenic designer Naomi Dawson’s cleverly deployed sheets of fabric.
• Wingert’s contemptuous delivery of the line, “Rub your chain with crumbs,” which may become my new go-to insult.
• The pattern-on-pattern riot that occurs when all of the characters assemble, clad in Ann Closs-Farley costumes that seem to have been sourced at a fabric store that specializes in statement plaids.
• Joy Dolo doing a lot with a little grunt.
• Agnew, who could use a stuntperson, face-planting in a pool of water.
• Emily Gunyou Halaas’ Viola, plaintively crying, “I am not what I am,” which is both the literal truth of her character, a young woman in disguise as a young man, and an existential statement of the play’s core, which is about identity and a feeling that we are not ourselves when we aren’t connected to those who love us.
I wish those themes were more present in this take on William Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Director Tom Quaintance and his terrific actors create wonderful scenes but the arc of the play — which takes place after a shipwreck separates twins Viola and Sebastian in an unfamiliar land — gets lost amid all the merrymaking, song-singing and thunderstorming. (While impressive, I’m not sure that opening shipwreck adds much.)
There are many other hints of a production that could do more: Wingert gives the perpetually drunk Sir Toby a suggestion of melancholy that deepens the character. (What drives him to drink?) Agnew’s deadpan pragmatism hints that her lowly servant probably should be running the whole land of Illyria. And Lichtscheidl makes the most of a scintillating exit line that seems to promise a “Thirteenth Night.” But, in the end, the great moments don’t quite connect to each other.
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