“Twelfth Night”

In preparation for my viewing of Ten Thousand Things‘ all-female production, I re-read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will. The text of the play is mostly a delight, though there are a few toothsome things to mull over after the play is done. Its end of multiple marriages is seemingly tidy, but a few characters are left out in the cold, as acknowledged by the clown’s closing song:

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day. (V. i. 392-395)

Both Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are fairly easily categorized as knaves. Yet I found Antonio the odd man out, literally. In this gender-bending comedy, the central character, Viola, spends most of her time dressed as a man. The happy couples at the end are she, united with her love Orsino, and her twin, Sebastian, married to Olivia. Olivia quickly abandoned her vow of mourning for her brother for Viola/Cesario. She even more quickly accepts male Sebastian in Cesario’s place. In the end, Orsino abandons his professed love for Olivia on learning his trusted “man” Cesario is in fact Viola. In my reading, Antonio, who saved Viola’s twin Sebastian after their shipwreck, is the only steadfast lover in the play. Orsino, not Antonio, is conveniently matched with Sebastian’s female counterpart once identities are revealed. Instead, his faithful and sincere speeches and acts of devotion to Sebastian:

I could not stay behind you: my desire
More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth:
And not all love to see you (though so much
As might have drawn one to a longer voyage)
But jealousy what might befall your travel
Being skilless in these parts: which to a stranger
Unguided and unfriended, often prove
Rough and unhospitable. My willing love,
The rather by these arguments of fear,
Set forth in your pursuit. (III. iii. 4-13)

get swept away in the tumult of the closing scene, perhaps because his love doesn’t conform to the norms of sex and gender.

I enjoyed the TTT production a great deal, and would recommend it to seek out, but all seats are committed, and its run ends tomorrow. Kate Eifrig is a delight in her dual roles of Viola and Sebastian. Maggie Chestovich is a thoughtful and clever clown. Sally Wingert reprises the role of Maria that she played in the Guthrie’s past productions, and adds an entertaining turn as Orsino. Isabell Monk O’Connor is a boisterous Sir Toby, while Kimberly Richardson makes a suitably clownish Sir Andrew. Barbara Kingsley does an appropriately uptight and off-putting Malvolio, though the production chooses to dwell on his punishment overmuch.

I found this version’s practice of leaving the lights up, and having the actors interact with the audience both exciting and unnerving. A main moment of disappointment, though, was the poignant scene of Viola and Sebastian, necessarily difficult to stage with one actor playing both parts. Instead of inspiring quiet appreciation for the range of emotions experienced by the characters, it was received as comic by most of the audience.

For more on the TTT production: City Pages review, Strib review, and an interview with TTT director Michelle Hensley at TC Daily Planet.

I chose to reread the play in advance; I find Shakespeare easier to follow with preparation. In contrast, there are movies coming up–The Road and Reservation Road–for which I’m going to read the book after, to better evaluate if the movie stands on its own. I’m likely not a good judge of TTT’s Twelfth Night clarity of story, then, since my recent prior reading doubtless filled in any plot gaps the editing might have left, as the play finished within a quick two hours.

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