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Twelfth Night, and musings on comedy
Bar Harbor
Yesterday, kestrell and I saw the Actors' Shakeseare Project "Twelfth Night" at the Boston Center for the Arts. An above-average production, with particularly excellent performances for Viola and Feste. Also a really succesful impressionistic set design, evoking ocean waves, and literally using elements like water, sand, and dark reflections. Illyria is an extension of the sea, just as unpredictable.

There were two poor directorial choices that I feel strongly enough to call mistakes, but luckily they were not enough to kill the overall. enjoyment of the show, which I do recommend.

Firstly, having cast the twins as actors who were, though vaguely similar, clearly *not* twins (not, in itself a terrible problem), they decided to 'fix' things in a way that added to the confusion, rather than clarifying matters. Most of Sebastian's early scenes are 'shadowed' by Olivia, with the two of them talking simultaneously. To quote a puzzled Olivia, "What's your metaphor?"

Secondly, in the final scene, they let Malvolio be sympathetic. This sort of thing has ruined other productions I have seen, but at least here it was restricted to the final scene. Yes, modern sensibilities have some issues with the sort of maltreatment that Malvolio receives. But foregrounding that does damage to the story. The way to handle him (and Caliban, and Shylock, and so on) is to make it clear how much he in fact *does* deserve the treatment he gets, which the text will quite easily support. In this case, Malvolio at least had been sufficiently obnoxious through the rest of the play, even if they faltered at the last.

In chatting with Kes, I had an insight into one of the qualities present in all the best Shakespeare (and perhaps all good fiction): the audience can laugh at the characters. No matter how seriously the characters take *themselves*, one must be able to appreciate the levels at which their striving (like all human striving) is absurd. In acting mediums, that responsibility often lies with the actors and directors. The text of Twelfth Night *allows* you to play Orsino's love for Olivia, and Oliva's love for Cesario, as deep, meaningful, and tragic -- I've seen it done. But when you do that, your storytelling is confined to a single note, dull and flat. I'd be interested in hearing any counterexamples, if y'all can think of any.

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I have this idea in my head about Malvolio-- I wonder if it would work to make him just a sort of gamer: he and the rest of the gang are always playing pranks on each other, and this one maybe got out of hand a little more than usual, but not enough to make, like, a thing about it.

"I'll be revenged on the pack of you", not in anger, but as a sly. Yeah, okay guys, you burned me good. I'll get you next time, just you see... In that case, even Malvolio is essentially laughing at himself: he's playing a game, and he's just lost, but he knows there'll be another game starting up next week, and he doesn't mind his odds for that one...

None of that has anything to do with the Orsino/Olivia/Cesario/Sebastian love quadrangle, obviously... it's just this idea I have about how to make the whole Malvolio-gets-tortured thing more palatable to the modern sensibility... (Remembering that public hangings, and the posting of executed criminals until their bodies had long decomposed, was and would be for centuries thereafter common sites; one imagines that Shakespeare's audiences were perhaps less squeamish about torture...)

Interesting notion. I don't think there's enough text to fully support it, but people have pulled off stranger things by added mimed actions. Or, of course, if you were merely adapting the story, and not using the text directly.

The text *does* support Toby Belch holding up one end of such a relationship, given how he interacts with Aguecheek and Maria.

The end of the Malvolio plot was out of step, although I confess it did not affect my enjoyment much.

The way they handled the twins may be a matter of personal taste. I liked it precisely because it confused me; I didn't entirely know which twin had had which interactions with Antonio, and although I knew that Sebastian was alive I thought it was clever that even this fact is ambiguous until quite late. The psychological result, for me personally, was that the identity confusion at the end entailed real confusion as an audience member, which was resolved as the characters' confusion was resolved.

I don't know whether that was the director's goal, and since it clearly doesn't have that effect on everyone it should perhaps be considered a mistake. But, having that particular experience, I thought it was a very valid choice.

OK, I can see that as a valid opinion, while still disagreeing with it :-)

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