William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night; Or What You Will” will be performed by UD’s drama department from Wednesday, Nov. 2, through Saturday, Nov. 12. From those striking, dark posters around campus, you can easily tell that this comedy provides something more evocative than mere humor. In director Kyle Lemieux’s own words, “‘Twelfth Night’ is Shakespeare’s most mature comedy, which was written in the same year as ‘Hamlet.’ In three words, it is a hauntingly somber comedy.”
For those of you who do not know the plot of “Twelfth Night,” go ahead and picture a play involving the themes of disguise and identity, madness, gender roles, and love paired with loss. A brief summary may help you as well: Shipwrecked in a violent storm off the coast of Illyria, Viola loses her twin brother, Sebastian. Consequently, she disguises herself as a boy and assumes the name “Cesario” to protect herself. In the process, Viola becomes a page in the service of Orsino the Duke. To make matters confusing, Orsino wants to be with the noble lady Olivia, who actually wants to be with “Cesario” (who is actually Viola), who really wants to be with Orsino. Are you following so far? Along with this tangled love story, there are other subplots and twists occurring on stage, but you’ll have to see “Twelfth Night” for yourself to discover what those are.
Before attending the show, go ahead and get rid of the notion that all Shakespearean shows entail posh British accents and puffy Elizabethan costumes. The setting for Lemieux’s “Twelfth Night” is in 1890s Russia during autumn, a backdrop which makes one acutely aware of the limits placed upon time. Lemieux found an interesting connection between Shakespeare’s play and Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s concept of “laughter through tears,” because, as Lemieux remarked, “Beneath the surface is a deep play, a transcending comedy which is painfully beautiful.”
Freshman Deborah Corpening, starring as Viola, found this approach to the play to be refreshing. “You’re not just acting, you really are the part. Rather than using an accent, this is you.”
Sophomore Paul Fojut, playing twin brother Sebastian, agreed: “You live life in the moment while on stage.”
Junior Joseph Mazza, playing the part of Feste the joker, noted, “The show is not altogether happy. It’s one of [Shakespeare’s] comedies that explores the losers in the game of love, because there are some people, who despite all these obstacles and confusion, end up happy together, but there are others who are left alone. There are a lot of loose ends, which is different compared with other Shakespearean comedies. However, what I want people to take from ‘Twelfth Night’ are the real people creating human experiences in the play.”
One of the unusual topics upon which Lemieux focused was music. “This play begins and ends with music,” he said, “and it is full of allusions dealing with music; it really is one of the central themes.” Reminiscent of Tchaikovsky and the great Russian musicians, senior Grace Pham composed and wrote all original music for the show to capture the spirit of the moment.
“The music is connected to the emotion in the play and allows people to bear their souls,” said Mazza. “It’s the easiest way to get to an emotional place, for better or for worse.”
Furthermore, the set alone makes the show worth seeing. When I walked out onto the stage and felt the texture of the cobblestones beneath my feet, I forgot that I was standing in the middle of Margaret Jonsson Theater and believed I was in the midst of a gorgeous yet melancholic courtyard.
Technical designer Tristian Decker, who has been working on the set since the start of the semester, said that “Shakespeare didn’t use much scenery, so he could transport his actors wherever and whenever he desired them to be. The real challenge, then, is to find a setting to be everything and nothing at the same time.”
Decker and Lemieux researched the summer homes of great Russian leaders such as Chekhov, Tchaikovsky and Rasputin.
“These homes are specific, but they are surprisingly English,” Decker said. “The courtyards and gardens have a lot of classical, English qualities, and at the same time, they reflect the notions of this being a melancholy play and the last days of the aristocracy.”
Also, when attending the show, be sure to look for the statues imitating Narcissus and Donatello’s David, both of which reflect the themes of gender and identification, or “how we identify ourselves,” as Lemieux said.
From universal themes to a unique setting, “Twelfth Night” has something to offer each audience member. Make sure to reserve a ticket and discover the richness and fullness of the characters that William Shakespeare has presented to us.