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.
The gender-bending, farcical and poignant production of Twelfth Night opens Saturday, December 5th at 2pm in Upper Tarble. This is no ordinary version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, though. Director Helen Stott ’10, Sirkka Natti ’11 and Glenn Stott ’12 have composed original music that is interspersed throughout the play, and there is no production team: it’s a complete collaboration.
“We asked people what they wanted to get out of the process and how much time they felt like they wanted to commit. We wanted it to be a show where people who might not have had the chance to get involved with theater before would be able to,” H. Stott said.
And nobody was turned away, though by a “fluke” only four men showed up for the auditions. Thus, the women-dominated cast resulted in more cross-dressing than intended in the original play. “Who plays the characters is not important, because they are so universal,” Natti said.
“Twelfth Night would have been played entirely by men [in Shakespeare’s time],” Simone Fried ’10 said. While this may have been the case, it felt as though Viola’s choice to temporarily change her gender identity was obfuscated by the multiplicity of gender-shifts. While this (purposefully or inadvertently) helped contribute to the comedy-orientated parts of the piece, it seemed to detract somewhat from Viola’s entrapment and inner struggle.
“I think the character of Viola is in a really difficult position in the play. She has to act the entire time like somebody that she isn’t. It’s hard to know what her real character is because she is always trying to be like somebody else,” said Chloe Noonan ’10, who played Viola.
“Sadness and grief is masked in Viola by trying to become her brother, in a way, by dressing up as him and wearing his clothes,” Noonan said. This is in turn seemed almost satirized by the other characters who were women wearing men’s clothing.
The comedic element of Twelfth Night was uproarious. Especially impressive were Fried (who played Sir Toby Belch), Dinah DeWald ’13 (Sir Andrew), G. Stott (Fool) and Harry Apostoleris ’12 (Malvolio). All four took advantage of strong facial expressions and outrageous blocking. Apostoleris made the stiff character of Malvolio his own, by attention to detail and a perfect “smile.” The play also included an especially entertaining slap-board act.
H. Stott encouraged the actors to form their own opinions about the meaning of the script and allowed them the liberty to find blocking that fit their characters. This production of Twelfth Night seemed to reflect this freedom to experiment, while holding true to many of the themes that seem inherent to the text. That being said, it may have been interesting if there was more commentary implied in the production on sexuality in society, especially with the new dynamics created by a majority-female cast in a play that already had a gender-swap at its heart.
Strikingly, the play ends in song and dance with accompaniment (Natti on guitar, DeWald on harp and H. Stott on the violin). The lyric “Hey ho, the wind and the rain,” is repeated to great effect to emphasize the storm that thrust Viola into the events of the story. Overall, the original music productions derived from Shakespeare’s lyrics were excellently composed and performed.
Twelfth Night will be performed Saturday, December 5th at 2:00PM and Sunday, December 6th at 2:00PM and 7:00PM in Upper Tarble.