Theatre performs 1920s version of “Twelfth Night”

On Nov. 1, Paly’s performing arts and theater program premiered its twist on Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night” by setting it in 1920s Hollywood. The comedy centers around Viola and her identical twin brother Sebastian, who are separated after a shipwreck. Viola, played by senior Sarah Ohlson, believes that Sebastian, played by senior Jonathan Mackris, is dead and assumes his identity as a boy servant. As the twins are separated, they become caught in a love triangle.

Other cast members include seniors Paige Esterly and Aaron Slipper, as well as juniors Winston Wang, Guive Asadi and James Chau.

This 1920s setting allows for more creative expression and assists in the audience’s understanding of the play.

“We have made everything very bright because it’s Hollywood,” performing arts director Kathleen Woods said. “We made it very showy and it’s very physical so the audience should be able to follow the story. Even if they don’t get every word, they should definitely be able to follow.”

In Paly’s adaptation, Viola, dressed as a boy under the alias Cesario, works for movie director Orsino, whom she falls in love with. However, Orsino is in love with movie star Olivia, who ends up falling in love with Cesario. The intricate plot and unique setting provides the cast with an obstacle in order to engage the audience during the performance.

“It’s a real complex show because it has singing, dancing, a newsreel and a film in it,” Woods said. “[Shakespearean] language is always a challenge for young people and for modern audiences so it’s a challenge, but we have lots of great people helping out.”

Each production and show can be interpreted to emphasize a particular theme that differs from the author’s original vision. Each member of the cast can portray various perspectives and display different emotions that they believe best represents the character and the story.

“‘Twelfth Night’ can be done a lot of different ways,” Woods said. “It can be done sort of on the darker side because one of the key characters is Malvolio, who is Olivia’s servant. Some people sometimes consider Malvolio in a way to be the center of the play. It’s different because it’s a kind of combination of humor but there are some things that happen that aren’t so happy.”

The language used in the adaptation is the same as in Shakespeare’s original play, but to compensate for the difficulty of Old English, the actors rely more on movements and physical actions to portray the story.

“We have a very active, physical production,” Woods said. “I would say even 7 or 8-year-olds would enjoy the characters, costumes, scenery and action. The opening number is a 1920s dance number that [the characters are] filming on the beach. There’s more music in ‘Twelfth Night’ than in any of Shakespeare’s other plays so we have a great group of female vocalists who are doing [both] songs from 1920s and songs that have been composed by Julian Hornik [‘13] and also by our vocal director.”

After the first shows on Nov. 1, Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, there will be two more shows on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Haymarket Theater. Woods hopes the audience will appreciate the show overall, but more specifically, the historical twist the play offers.

“I hope that they will first of all just enjoy the show and that they’ll understand the story and enjoy our concept of the show,” Woods said. “As a result, [I hope that] they’ll also see that Shakespeare is a fantastic theatrical experience and that you don’t have to study a lot of Shakespeare to enjoy Shakespeare.”