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“Excellently Ignorant”: Bwog Reviews KCST’s Twelfth Night

What a fancy design! The Bard would be proud

What a fancy design! The Bard would be proud

Last night, two Bwog writers, a Staff Writer and Betsy Ladyzhets, had the honor of sitting in on the dress rehearsal for “Twelfth Night,” the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s second production of the semester. The play runs tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are sold out for all three nights, but the waitlist starts at 7pm each night at the Glicker-Milstein Theater. Our staffer and Betsy explain why you should try to see this play,  if you don’t already have a ticket.

This fall, KCST decided that, besides the more dramatic “Lulu,” they would also try to tackle a comedy: “Twelfth Night,” penned by the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. For those of you who haven’t had time between CC readings and problem sets to catch up on your Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night” is Shakespeare’s ‘last comedy’ that centers on twins, Viola and Sebastian.

After a shipwreck on the coast of Illyria (eastern Adriatic Sea), each twin believes the other to be drowned. Viola then disguises herself as a boy and takes the name Cesario in order to work for Duke Orsino, a local aristocrat who is attempting to woo the Countess Olivia. Orsino uses ‘Cesario’ to send messages of his unrequited love to Olivia, but the Countess accidentally falls for ‘Cesario,’ not realizing that ‘Cesario’ is actually Viola, a girl. This mixup is only exacerbated because Viola has fallen for Duke Orsino while working for him, forming possibly the most unfortunate love triangle that Bwog has ever seen. Shakespeare also added a sub-plot to “Twelfth Night,” following several characters in their attempts to trick Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, into thinking that Olivia had fallen in love with him. (Spoilers: Sebastian, who didn’t drown either, and eventually returns, causing further confusion when ‘Cesario’ and Sebastian are confused by Olivia and other characters. It’s complicated.)

Over the course of the almost 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, putting a unique spin on the Bard’s works has gotten progressively more difficult. In order to stay true to the script while distinguishing her own influence in crafting this rendition of “Twelfth Night,” director Rachel Cramer (BC ‘17) opted to add a silent scene to the opening of the play, placing every actor at her disposal onstage to act out the events that lead into the main plot of the play. Through a whirlwind of movement, light, and sound intended to imitate the rhythm and volatility of the waves, the audience is given the chance to witness the shipwreck that sets the play in motion. Just from this beginning, our expectations for the rest of the play were greatly inflated; the foreshadowing of the coming conflict and dynamics between the different characters in the play were on brilliant display, and the high energy from the opening set a fantastic tone for the true beginning of the performance.

In a word, KCST’s production of “Twelfth Night” was impressive. Cramer’s vision for the play – a stylized, steampunk-esque aesthetic that made extensive use of color and movement of the setting itself – was clear and well-intentioned, and it ultimately made for an enjoyable performance. The actors’ performances made the play accessible and understandable to even a Shakespearian-neophyte, a tricky feat considering the convoluted plot with which the troupe was working. Despite one actress’s concern (found in her program note) that she “hopes that by the time you read this, she has learned her lines,” every single actor had a meaningful grasp of the narrative they were meant to develop, enabling the troupe to easily bridge any potential gap in the audience’s understanding through the players expressive and enthusiastic showmanship.

“If this falls into thy hand, revolve.” [Malvolio turns around slowly a couple of times]

“If this falls into thy hand, revolve.” [Malvolio turns around slowly a couple of times]

One truly standout actor who embodied such expressiveness and enthusiasm particularly well was Talmage Wise (CC ‘18) – or, as he’s known in the play, Malvolio, the Countess Olivia’s servant. Wise played his character with great effect and hilariously overdramatic acting, uttering such lines as “Jove and my stars be thanked, there is yet a postscript!” with such conviction that it was difficult to not become fully invested in his character. (There were also some phenomenal moments involving yellow knee-socks. And lunges. Lunges with yellow knee-socks.) The Fool, or Feste, played by Molly Lo Re (BC ‘17) and Sir Toby Belch, played by Tina Simpson (BC ‘19), also stood out for their wonderful comedic prowess. Thanks to these actors and others involved in their scenes, the comedic subplot was so well executed, it almost seemed like a dramatic main plot.

The sexual tension is real

The sexual tension is real

Comedic effect aside, for “Twelfth Night” to be “Twelfth Night,” there needs to be confused sexual tension, and the confused sexual tension in this production was, as one of our reviewers noted during the show, “very real.” Olivia (Tate Durand, BC ‘16) threw her affections upon a disguised Viola (Victoria Gross, CC ‘19); Viola longingly stared at Duke Orsino (Adam Obedian, CC ‘19); and Orsino started to wonder that maybe he was a bit more drawn to the male form than he’d previously thought (a confusing situation for anyone, surely). And there might have been something going on between Antonio (Aaron Kane, CC ‘17) and Sebastian (Scott Fischbein, CC ‘16) – or, at least, Antonio’s intense friendship to Sebastian (and his exceedingly tight pants) sent some fairly mixed signals. All of the actors involved in these romantic plots played their roles with the perfect mixture of misplaced tension and confused angst, making the audience feel sorry for them and truly hopeful that everything would work out in the end.

Even though the show was well performed, technical complications with the stage slightly detracted from the experience as a whole. Between each scene, the set needed to be altered – large, white curtains were hung up or let down, crates were moved, or a vase was taken in or out of a chest – creating long breaks between scenes in a fairly quickly paced play. These changes to the curtains and positioning of the crates were done in order to represent changes in the locations of scenes, and while it was an interesting effect, the small changes to the atmosphere of the stage weren’t worth the extended breaks in the action. During set rearrangement, the various cast members working on the set hummed a tune in unison, creating a musical transition between scenes that quickly went from charming to tedious. (One of our reviewers was humming along to the melody almost perfectly by the second act.) That being said, the difficulties with the stage were not detrimental to the overall quality of the show, only to the immersion factor.

There’s truly no question that Shakespeare was a genius. In “Twelfth Night,” characters, relationships, and plot arcs move around chaotically beneath a veil of dramatic irony, yet they somehow all manage to come together in the end. He had to be a pretty quick-minded guy to keep all of those moving pieces ordered, not to mention throwing in some quality puns and dick jokes. But then, if Shakespeare was a genius for writing “Twelfth Night,” then so was the director who figured out how to stage it, so are the actors who figured out how to make their roles both clear and entertaining, and so are the producers who figured out how to make it all come together. KCST’s production of “Twelfth Night” may have had a few flaws, but all in all, it was a product of genius and did a service to the Bard – and, perhaps more importantly, it kept us laughing the whole time.

Rachel Cramer, the play’s director, says it best in her program bio: “Honestly though Bill, you write plays that bring lunatics together. William Shake Shack, thank you for bringing these fools into my life.”

Photos via Finola Goudy, co-publicity manager, and the official Facebook page

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