Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cal Shakes - Twelfth Night

I enjoyed yesterday's performance of Twelfth Night at Cal Shakes. The performances were solid, the staging was effective, the costumes were traditional yet creative. I also liked how they took some creative liberties (having the characters dressed in Renaissance attire while pulling out their cell phones for various reasons). I think that if I knew this play backward and forward like I do some of Shakespeare's other works (Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice) I'd really love it.

Unfortunately, I don't know this one that well, and I didn't take the time to really familiarize myself with it like I usually do when I see a performance of a play that I don't know. I basically did a quick crash-course an hour before I left, reading a summary of the first two acts and an analysis of the major characters. I figured that I'd be in good shape even though I knew that things could potentially get confusing because like a lot of the other comedies, this one involves mistaken identities. I figured there was a good chance that at least one actor would play multiple roles, and I was probably going to have to pay close attention to know when the actor was one character versus another. I also figured that since this was a comedy, I'd have an easier time figuring out what's going on, as they tend to be filled with more prose than poetry as opposed to his tragedies.

I don't want to say that I was totally confused throughout the whole thing, but I did find myself probably exhausting more mental energy trying to discern who was who than I was just simply sitting back and letting myself enjoy it. One other thing, and I'm not sure if this had anything to do with it one way or the other, was that all of the parts (minus the jester) were performed by women. With some of them, their attire and makeup made it transparent that they were men. With a few others, I might not have known if I hadn't read that character analysis.

Don't get me wrong. The whole play deals with issues of gender swapping, and it's definitely an appropriate casting choice, especially considering that in Shakespeare's time, it would have been all men (and boys) playing the parts. I just might have appreciated that particular decision more if I was more familiar with this play.

I really found myself feeling good as the story was being resolved, and I found Malvolio's ominous line about wanting to get revenge to be a pretty dark way to end a silly comedy. (But that's Shakespeare for you. Even Much Ado About Nothing has a bit of a sad note for Don Pedro, as he's a main character left without a mate.)

I probably won't get to see this particular group of actors do this play again, but I will eagerly see other stagings (and film versions?) of this play.

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