Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This weekend, the Drama Board presents “Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” one of Shakespeare’s most popular and charming comedies. The Daily Gazette got a sneak preview, and spoke with director Kathy Liu ’05 about the project.
The play contains many of the stock elements of any Shakespearean comedy: confused identities, women in drag, twins, shipwrecks, and several weddings. Viola (Caroline Grubbs ’07) is washed ashore onto Ilyria after a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to her, her twin Sebastian (Joseph Borkowski ’08) also survived, rescued by Antonio (Nat Erb-Satullo ’07). She disguises herself as a boy and enters the service of the duke of Ilyria, Orsino. Viola is brought to Orsino’s would-be wife, Olivia (Katie Cassling ’07), who insists on grieving for her dead brother instead of marrying. A host of other characters, mostly in service or relations of Olivia, include her servants Malvolio (Arthur Chu) and Maria (Katie Chamblee ’07), Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Bill Welsh ’08) and his hanger-on Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ben Mitchell ’05), sidekick Fabian (Dan Jamison ’08), and, memorably, the fool Feste (Heather Ylitalo-Ward ’06).
And this is only the exposition. The plot is plentiful, but not difficult to follow. Olivia begins to fall in love with the disguised Viola; Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria and Fabian humiliate the self-righteous Malvolio; Sebastian and Viola are often confused for one another; and it all turns out happily in the end.
Liu has chosen an early 19th century setting for the play, which is reflected in Sam Baker ’07 and Lulu Chen ’05’s costume designs. “I always thought it would be funny to do a Jane Austen Shakespeare kind of thing, just because it’s a comedy of manners,” Liu said. She found the Elizabethan characters and situations moved easily into their new settings. “We have the dark, brooding, Byronic-type hero…and the upstairs-downstairs deal to the whole thing.” Liu thinks that the more recent setting makes the play more accessible. “The biggest thing for me was that I wanted the language to be approachable.”
The humor is certainly approachable for modern audiences. Most of the comedy is played quite broadly, particularly the supporting characters such as Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew. “Shakespeare helped us out a little bit because the characters are who they are,” Liu said, with the physical comedy and earthier, bawdier language as a counterpoint to Viola and Olivia’s more dignified and poetic exchanges.
One of the production’s assets is its delightful original music, by Jackie Werner ’07 (who also plays a number of small parts in the play). It maintains more of an Elizabethan modality than the recorded music selected, but is excellently sung by Ylitalo-Ward (to Shakespeare’s texts), and gives a welcome variety to the show.
The play has an unusual venue: the Rose Garden, next to Parrish Circle. LPAC was not available, and Liu thought the Rose Garden was a “great” option. Liu notes that Shakespeare’s plays were originally written to be performed without sets, as the production will be seen here. The garden will be lit, and audience members are invited to bring their own blankets. Performances are at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Performances will move to the Scheuer Room in case of rain.