Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

25 February 2005

Olivia, Viola, Violence and Violins

Vitriolic Review of Twelfth Night to follow. PLEASE DON'T READ THIS IF YOU LIKE THE SHOW.

I saw Twelfth Night at Cal Poly this evening with my friend Scott and his friend Aaron and I did not like it. It's not the performances that bugged me, although a certain young man who wears a blond wig the entire show is just god-awful. What I hated about the show all has to do with direction.

The concept is good... great even. It's interesting and clever and allows a lot of script snags to be explained extremely easily. It's nice.

No one will ever make me understand why we tolerate so much outright phoniness when we watch a Shakespeare play. Why is this okay? Normally I am going to think this is a theatre and I will allow certain things... those things might be the acceptance that two places that, in the play, are at least a hundred yards apart exist within a distance of a few mere feet. I allow that, and easily. I also allow that people will drink from plastic wine glasses and pay for things with plastic money. It's the theatre, after all.
What I will not allow is people miming dialogue with one another. I have never known myself in reality to mime dialogue with a co-worker or with a friend, and so I am understandably baffled when I see an actor do this. Note to actor: you are pretending and I can see that you are pretending. Exactly whom do you think you are fooling?
I will not allow that music comes out of a gramophone that has no trumpet.
I will not allow that a soldier in a noble's service sings with the aid of a violin that comes from absolutely nowhere.
I will not allow that the show is absolutely filled to the brim with 400-year-old music even though the show is set only 150 years ago. No one on this Caribbean island knows any pirate songs, I guess.
I found the use of music (and ritual???) throughout the show frustrating and pointless. If it isn't funny and the show is a comedy, what is the point? It can't possibly be realism, so what is it? Cutting all of this would have cut down on that 150-minute running time, too.

What I find even more frustrating is a complete neglect of the show's sexual elements: the gender-bending, the jilted lover Antonia, the homosexual overtones in the relationships (If Orsino loves Viola and it's okay because she's a woman, how do we feel about Olivia loving Viola?). I felt like these elements were pushed to the side in favor of the clown (an androgynous and sexless character in this production though neither in the script) and Sir Toby (who has a sexless side-romance with his servant-girl Maria). Both performers (Wahima and Joe) were wonderful, but to ignore the sex in a play about sex! Unforgivable.

I could really go on and on, but it would only end with me saying how I think a production like this is exactly the kind of production that I think has ruined people on Shakespeare: a phony romp without stakes or purpose that gets by on the play's clever premise and good writing.