This was my first time seeing Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, 12th Night. For those of you who may not be familiar with the plot, the story follows separated twins, Sebastian and Viola. Following a shipwreck, Viola thinks Sebastian is dead, so she disguises herself as a man to serve the duke of Illyria, named Orsino. Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia, but Olivia falls for Viola, who is in disguise. Then Sebastian arrives in Illyria. Viola and Sebastian look identical, so the people in Illyria get massively confused. Some of the major themes of the play include the re-thinking of sexuality, nature of relationships, desire, revenge, and the fickleness of love. The play disrupts the boundaries of compulsory heterosexuality and flips societal norms upside down.
This is a play that has been produced thousands of times. I realized after seeing the play that the movie, She’s the Man, released in 2006, is a version of 12th Night. The characters are actually named Viola, Sebastian, Duke, etc. A girl disguises as her brother at a boarding school and love triangles form.
In the version of the play I saw, the director put a 1930s twist on the props, costumes, stage, choreography, and music. I loved the elegant pattern painted on the back wall and floor of the stage, as well as the gorgeous mural of mountains, forest, and the ocean. The costumes, down to the patterned socks and elaborate wigs were charming and drew me into the story.
The choreography and blocking added a layer of humor. When Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek first saw each other after a long time, they had an elaborate handshake-dance-greeting that lasted almost five minutes. It was awkward and hilarious. Their characters added a lot of comedic relief to the play.
One of the most fascinating characters in the play to me was the fool, Feste. He pretended to be stupid but in reality, he was the only person who knew that Viola was a woman. His persona of being foolish allowed him to make comments that others could not get away with. The character made me think about the psychology of humor. In reality, it takes a lot of intelligence and skill to land a joke and entertain others. People also often laugh at things that pains or scares them. Therefore the nature of telling a joke is delicate. There is also a lot of power in making people laugh. When a person laughs, they let down their guard and are quite vulnerable. Thus, a level of trust is inevitably built between the joker and their audience.
Overall, I really enjoyed the play. I would encourage everyone to checkout the plays and musicals put on by U of M’s Department of Theater & Drama.