William Peace Theatre Company’s collegiate production of Twelfth Night is a raucous romp through the 1980s. Duke Orsino plays “air guitar” as he feasts on “the food of love.” The Clown could be aptly renamed “M.C.” Feste.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek indulges in break dancing when he decides to prove that he “can cut a caper.” “Yellow stockings” are part of an aerobics outfit.
Add a boom box, appropriate costumes (designed by Rachel Pottern), appropriate music, and (of course) the hair; and William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or What You Will fits snugly into our 1980s.
Dr. Wade Newhouse directs this fast-paced production in William Peace University’s Leggett Theater on the second floor of the university’s Main Building. The play’s subtitle “What You Will” makes the 1980s, a period in which young people indulged in rampant consumerism and focused on self-definition, an appropriate choice. The resulting visuals are an added treat.
For the uninitiated, the show involves unrequited love, mourning for deceased (and presumed deceased) siblings, mistaken identity, drunken reveling, self-importance, and a plot for revenge that goes a little too far.
A shipwreck has separated a set of twins who, although they are opposite genders, are easily mistaken for each other. Viola thinks Sebastian is dead. Sebastian thinks Viola is dead. Both venture into the town of Illyria, where Duke Orsino is in love with Lady Olivia, who has sequestered herself in mourning for the death of her brother. Viola disguises herself as a man (in clothes identical to her brother’s) and is hired to serve Orsino, who sends “him” to woo Olivia in his stead.
Sir Toby Belch is Olivia’s uncle, who is a permanent guest in her household. Sir Toby has encouraged the foolish, foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek in his hopes to win Olivia’s love; but all Sir Toby really wants is to have Sir Andrew hang out with him and party nonstop (at Sir Andrew’s expense).
Maria, Malvolio, and Feste work for Olivia. Maria is her gentlewoman; Feste is her “fool” or court-jester. Both have an ability to see through the pretenses of others, an ability that fuels both the plot and the comedic situations. Malvolio is Olivia’s steward — in charge of the household, but a servant nonetheless. Straight-laced and self-important, he is referred to as a “puritan,” and he despises the idea of anybody having fun. By his very nature, he is at loggerheads with Feste, Sir Toby, and Maria and easily gives all three a reason to dislike him.
Set designer Sonya Leigh Drum has modified the Leggett Theater space to create a theater-in-the-round effect, with rows of seats bordering the acting area on all sides; and “off-duty” actors actually sit among the onstage audience, in plain view.
Mary Lynn Bain is quite sympathetic as Viola. The most poignant moment of the show is her soliloquy at the point at which she realizes that Olivia has fallen for Cesario (who is really Viola [who is in love with Orsino [who pines after Olivia]]).
Delphon “DJ” Curtis, Jr. as Feste shows the proper aloofness, wit, and insight of an “allowed fool”; and he demonstrates that he has a “set of pipes” when he sings Feste’s songs. The program also credits him with original songs.
Alex Reynolds’ Sir Toby is appropriately bombastic, and Dustin Walker’s Sir Andrew is appropriately foolish. Their drunken antics are quite enjoyable.
Josh Walker portrays Malvolio’s changes nicely, as he moves from rigidly proper to foolishly hopeful, to despairingly hopeless, to righteously vengeful. The “wooing” scene could not possibly have been more outrageously funny.
Rosemary Richards, as Olivia, is believably endearing — it is easy to empathize with Orsino’s infatuation with her and to accept Sebastian’s immediate “surrender.” The intimate setting enables us to see (and appreciate) her facial expressions as she falls for “Cesario.”
Tyler Graeper shows Orsino’s shifting moods admirably. We can see his affection for Cesario grow and easily accept the shift of his love interest in the denouement.
Alexandra Finazzo shows us a spirited, scurrying Maria who is “all business” about “getting the job done.”
Supporting cast is strong. Note especially the scenes that include Fabian (Kelsey Bledsoe) contain an extra character: Bavian (Hannah Marks). Purists might be a bit baffled, but both actors add to the hilarity of their scenes. It’s no wonder that Dr. Newhouse wanted both in the cast.
The show begins and ends with interesting “bits” that involve Curio (Brenna Coogan).
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- Sir Andrew is, perhaps, a little over-the-top foolish. While this works well for the comedy and the shtick, there is a point at which the character has the opportunity to pull at our heartstrings for a moment, and we did not feel this tug.
- Sir Toby’s cautioning/provoking of the would-be duelers might be more effective if underplayed for intensity rather than overplayed with volume for bluster.
- The affection between Sir Toby and Maria could have been more pronounced.
William Peace Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night, which runs through Sunday afternoon, is well worth seeing.
William Peace Theatre presents TWELFTH NIGHT at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, and 2 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Leggett Theater on the second floor of Main Building at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $15 ($5 students and $10 faculty, staff, and alumni).
BOX OFFICE: http://bit.ly/WPUT12Nweb.
INFORMATION: 919-508-2051 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/twelfth-night-or-what-you-will-tickets-20764095970, http://www.peace.edu/event/445-twelfth-night-by-william-peace-theatre, and https://www.facebook.com/events/945069445562729/.
PRESENTER: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre and https://www.facebook.com/williampeacetheatre.
2015-16 SEASON: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre/2015-16-theatre-season.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will (c. 1601-02 comedy): http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/Texts/TN/ (Internet Shakespeare Editions) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelfth_Night (Wikipedia).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/doc/TN_M/scene/1.1/ (Internet Shakespeare Editions).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/study-guides/twelfth-night-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Dr. Wade Newhouse (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/wade.newhouse (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.