Mar 18, 2018
by Alexa Chipman
The Elizabethan holiday season, crowned by Twelfth Night, was a boisterous atmosphere of inebriated celebration, where the Lord of Misrule held court, eventually banned by Puritans who were horrified at the unbridled pagan revelry. William Shakespeare draws on its festive mischief for his comedy of gender swapping and mistaken identities causing a romantic tangle “too hard a knot for me to untie” as Viola bemoans.
Separated in a storm, identical twins are washed ashore, and Viola decides it is safer to disguise herself as a man. She takes a position serving Duke Orsino, who is madly in love with Olivia, and constantly begs for her to return his adoration. When Viola appears to plead his case, Olivia finds herself drawn to the well-spoken young man, while Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino. When the twin arrives in the city, he is mistaken for his sister, and finds himself embroiled in duels and pursued by Olivia, who is ecstatic at the sudden interest from her intended lover. After a series of madcap adventures, all is revealed, and the duke offers Viola his hand, “you shall from this time be your master’s mistress.”
The primarily female cast with one trans nonbinary person is a mirror image of Shakespeare’s time, and is effective in highlighting the unbalanced gender roles inherent in the play. Duke Orsino rants that women are incapable of meaningful love “no woman’s heart so big, to hold so much,” and Oliva is described as cruel when her wishes do not align with male ideals. Listening to this particular cast with these sorts of lines calls into question modern sensibilities that lead to incidents such as Gamergate, a recent destructive harassment campaign against women, and the sense of entitlement held by those suffering from unrequited love.
Dominated by a chessboard design of checkered marble and oversized pieces of the queen and rook, representing Olivia and the duke, the compelling set was created by Peter Crompton. Inspired by 1930s flowing trousers, Julia Kwitchoff’s costume designs offer a whimsical style and vintage elegance to otherwise lewd exchanges. Director Paul Draper has mined the language for double entendres, taking full advantage of the famous line “some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Vivian Knee’s coquettish Olivia is confident in her wit and beauty, and she interacts naturally with her surroundings, leaning against an archway, falling gracefully onto the lounge, and giving a start at Malvolio’s unexpected appearance from behind a curtain. Keeping a stiff outer appearance as Cesario, and melting into agonized sighs for a love who ignores her, Katee Drysdale’s Viola is most effective when allowed to participate in the comedic aspects of the play, such as her accidental participation in a duel.
Natasha Potts as Sir Toby Belch takes the highly colored character to new levels of amiable debauchery, staggering through scenes clutching a wine bottle, loudly singing the “Twelve Days of Christmas” to a bemused Maria (Aliya Bacal Peterson) and dragging the hapless Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Karina Pugh) along for the ride. Adrianna Lazar’s Malvolio, the stern butler who secretly admires Olivia, is tricked into believing that she returns his suit. Lazar’s grimaced smile and capering about to win her favor is a piece of well-crafted amusement.
Sonoma State’s ‘Twelfth Night’ presents Shakespeare’s bawdy comedy with a lush beachside set, diverting shenanigans, and intriguing casting choices that underscore concerning assumptions in the text.
Presented by Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
through March 31, 2018
March 14-16 at 7:30pm
March 28-31 at 7:30pm
Evert B. Person Theatre at Sonoma State University
1801 E. Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Photos by James Wirth Photography.
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