Comedy is the word in “Twelfth Night (or What You Will),” currently in a brief run at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham. Of course, since this play is from the pen of Shakespeare, the laughs are delivered amid a torrent of poetic language.

The cast, full of USM Theatre Department undergrads, may have slightly exceeded the speed limit during some of the lengthier speeches on opening night. But the obviously inspired ensemble hit an effective stride during moments when words and actions were more closely aligned. As Feste the Clown remarks, “Present mirth hath present laughter.”

Disguised, mistaken and changeable identity are at the center of “Twelfth Night.” When the shipwrecked Viola decides she’ll fare better in the land of Illyria if she pretends to be her twin brother Sebastian, who she believes is dead, a chain of misdirected attractions and confounded emotions lead to rich comic situations.

Viola is attracted to her nobleman employer Orsino who, thinking her the man Cesario, sends her to woo Lady Olivia on his behalf. Olivia soon falls for the messenger instead. Later, after the introduction of more characters in often broadly comic situations, Sebastian turns up alive and, looking like his sister in disguise, accepts the love of Olivia. Viola then reveals herself as a woman and falls into the arms of Orsino, who it appears was already attracted to her as a man.

Molana Oei, as Viola in disguise, provided the right sort of fresh-faced astonishment as her character contends with the demands and eccentricities of the aristocrats she runs between.

Emily Grotz added spirit to the proceedings as Sebastian, spinning the heads of all the others upon his arrival. Collin Young, as Orsino, dreamily fretted while pining for Olivia, and Jessie U. Vander, in the latter role, fussed about her romantic options until the fog of confused emotions eventually lifted.

Encouraged by the gentlewoman Maria, a feisty tease as portrayed by Marisa Bickford, Matty Boyd, as Sir Toby Belch, and Bobby Dall, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, serve up the slapstick in episodes of sometimes bawdy comedy. Jacob Hammond’s pitiable romantic Malvolio also earned big laughs.

Luis del Valle’s Feste added wry commentary with a rascally delight and sang in period folk styles. Original music by Mitchell Boucher was performed by a small ensemble above and to the rear of the action.

Nate Genrich, Cami Gibson, Hollie Pryor, Braden Socquet (who also provided some choreography), Calvin Sprague and Nicole Welch rounded out the ensemble.

A multi-level set by Perry Fertig, lighting by Thomas Austin Foley and costumes by Anna Grywalski contribute to an impressive and highly-entertaining production brought to life under the direction of faculty member Sara Valentine.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.