Love triangles, cross-dressing, and binge drinking may be standard weekend fare for St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) students, however on Nov. 8, the Theater, Film, and Media Studies (TFMS) department brought them to life onstage in the form of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a comedy exploring the intricacies of gender, love and social class in Elizabethan society in the fictional setting Illyria.
In the opening scene of the play, Sir Toby Belch (Daekwan Jacobs) swaggers on stage and takes a deep swig from his flask, setting the tone of debauchery and mischief woven throughout the more sobering themes of unrequited love and loss that comprise the drama of Twelfth Night. This jocular mood is well-sustained throughout the play by giving a light-hearted turn to the alternating rage, jealousy, and affection exchanged between the three main players and components of the love triangle: the Duke Orsino, the Lady Olivia, and the shipwrecked girl, Viola, disguised as a servant boy named Cesario.
Kait Johnston-Napora plays an innocent and hapless Viola, displaying simultaneous shock and amusement at the disastrous misunderstandings that result from her cross-dressing, and which constitute the main drama of the play. Michael Miller as Orsino and Miranda Hall as Olivia expertly balance the sentimentality and humor that comes with their attachments to the disguised Viola. The gravity of Orsino and Cesario’s bond isn’t lost in Miller and Johnston-Napora’s delivery of the famous lines that contain a veiled confession of forbidden love for each other. Olivia, the English noblewoman, wields a broom to fend off her love interest’s attackers. Cesario comically rebuffs Olivia’s love with the characteristic annoyance of a teenager. Jacob Traver portrays a bellowing, bold Malvolio, who pantomimes crude sexual acts in his seduction of Olivia. In sum, this production nails its portrayal of the raucous humor of Twelfth Night.
While SMCM’s Twelfth Night hits the mark in its comedy, it also overplays certain subtleties in an attempt to make the anachronous English and the nuances of the characters’ relationships obvious to an unfamiliar audience. This is a natural liability of bringing a play as complex and context-driven as Twelfth Night to the stage. Instead of the more subtle, strictly forbidden romantic tension between Viola/Cesario and Duke Orsino suggested by the play’s context, the production goes all out with a near-kiss. Olivia fawns over Cesario without the self-conscious restraint part of the comedy that comes from the implicitly transgressive nature of their love. The upside of this is that audience members need not be well versed in Shakespeare to be amused and ultimately uplifted by the action.
The next production at the Bruce Davis Theater will be Spring Awakening. It will show Feb. 28 to March 3 at 8 pm, and March 4 at 2 pm.