The taunting of Malvolio
Anyone who still had their doubts about injecting steampunk into one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies had their fears quelled instantly at the opening night of SJSU‘s Twelfth Night. Excitement started growing as soon as we were let into the University Theatre and saw the grand beach scene with what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a downed zeppelin. The logic of the steampunk theme became clear when we meet Viola on the beach (and later Sebastian). Viola and Sebastian clearly come from Shakespeare’s time. It is the fictional Illyria, where they had been shipwrecked, that was filled with fantastical steampunk characters. This is a world where women rule their own lives and have (somewhat) control over their men. It is a world of mischievous antics, sexual innuendos and games, much drink, music and dancing, and, most important, fun. It’s a land that draws in the audience, and one that we definitely did not want to leave.
Sir Toby plays with Maria
I knew I had been taking a chance in promoting this show before it opened, but I had been intrigued from the moment I had heard “steampunk + Shakespeare”. However, my own high expectations were so far exceeded that all I can say is this is the must-see production of the year in San Jose. I had more fun in this show than at any other show I’ve seen in recent memory and plan to see it again. The audience — packed full of SJSU students, professors of Shakespearian literature, theater fans, and even dressed up characters from the Bay Area Steampunk Association (yes, it’s a real thing) – all had a blast as we danced along with the music, lusted after the corseted women, laughed at Sir Toby and Malvolio, and simply enjoyed Shakespeare the way the Bard himself would have wanted us to.
There was some questioning of the portrayal of Orsino as an emo rock star with “a posse”, but in this imaginative interpretation it still worked – and even the Shakespeare experts in the audience gave the show a thumbs up overall. My guest at the show had never seen Twelfth Night or even read the play, but he loved it so much he plans to read the play now. What more can you ask? The steampunk theme was used partly as a way to bring Shakespeare to a new audience, to show how much fun it can be, and this production passed with flying colors on all counts. Not only was the audience packed in both Friday and Saturday, but they had the highest grossing opening night in the last four years.
"Cesario" looks over the tortured Orsino
Although the set design, lighting, costumes and excellent choices in music (White Wedding! Dubstep! RAP!) were all outstanding, a drama production always rests on the actors. With this fantastic group it is very hard to single anyone out, but I would be remiss in not mentioning three specific stand-out roles:
Kayleigh Larner as the sexy Maria was my favorite. It is quite a feat to be so brilliant in her comedy while simultaneously making hearts pound as she strutted the stage in her corset, playfully whacking Sir Toby with her riding crop. I could watch a whole show starring only Kayleigh Larner as Maria.
The recipient of those crop swats was the lucky David Scott, and his drunken portrayal of Sir Toby was both fun and slightly creepy. Drunk through most if not all of the show, Sir Toby was playful, mischievous, and yet in full control of his senses. Scott took his character right to the limits of bawdy humor but never once went over the top. It was barely restrained perfection.
And finally, no review of this show will go by without mention of Drew Jones as Malvolio. This man has been honing his comedic genius in other plays I have seen and is ALWAYS a stand-out and major scene-stealer. As each scene goes by, the audience wants more and more of Malvolio, and the yellow stockings scene is just something… that can’t… be missed.
The homoerotic themes of the show were not ignored
Congrats to Director Kathleen Normington for putting together a fantastical and original interpretation of Twelfth Night, and for all the help given the production by Dramaturge Dr. Adrienne Eastwood. There was an incredible amount of work put into this show by a very large group of set designers, costumers and makeup artists, and every bit of that work shows and is appreciated.
You still have a chance to see this OUTSTANDING production, and I stake my reputation as a drama reviewer that you will not be disappointed. Whether you are a steampunk fan, a lover of Shakespeare, ordinary theater goer, or just looking for something to do, you will not be disappointed. You certainly can’t beat the price, and after Thursday’s show there will be a chance to ask questions of the actors, director, and dramaturge. Don’t miss it!
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 7pm
SJSU University Theatre
Fifth and San Fernando next to the San Jose Public Library
Tickets $10 students/seniors; $20 general admission
Or call 408 924-4555