Posts Tagged ‘twelfth night’

Not your grandma’s Shakespeare

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!

Twelfth Night
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
Tickets Online
Or call 408 924-4555
Wheelchair Admissable

Why is Metblogs so excited about SJSU’s steampunk Twelfth Night?

David Scott and Kayleigh Larner as Toby and Maria

SJSU’s steampunk version of Twelfth Night starts this Friday, and the excitement and buzz before the show even opens is tremendous.  I have been lucky enough to preview a few rehearsals and am happy to say this show looks VERY entertaining yet also true to Shakespeare’s word.  The SJSU Theatre Department does not get much press but they should, because the productions I have seen there have met or exceeded the quality of any professional theater company in this area.  And with a ticket price of $10 for students/seniors and $20 general admission, one can hardly go wrong.

I asked director Kathleen Normington and dramaturge Dr. Adrienne Eastwood to talk a bit about this steampunk version of Twelfth Night.   If you are interested in steampunk, or question the decision to bring steampunk to Shakespeare, I recommend reading their answers below.

First, Director Normington commented on the interesting music choices and the striking visual aesthetics.

Director Normington:  Music choices are very untraditional and were inspired from my 16 year old son’s playlist. He introduced me to “dubstep” music and that became a key sound component for the show. It has an edgy, harsh quality that seems to fit the world of the play that we have created, most especially in the character of Orsino, the drug-addled, love-crazed “Duke.” I worked with a student who created some original dubstep music for the production and we threw in some trance and the music of Dirty Three, Bassnectar, and Moby. An eclectic mix that seems to help tell the story of the play for me.

Twelfth Night, with Drew Benjamin Jones as Malvolio.

On scenic design: This comedy, like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, places the main characters in a natural environment and I wanted to expand that for the setting. Many of the scenes occur outdoors and the beach became the dominant design concept for the entire play. I wanted a contrast between a completely realistic and natural environment with the metal, wood, and metallics of steampunk that is most revealed in the costumes and props. Steampunk became a style choice that grew out of the main themes of the play: time, disguise, and the intersection of a modern sensibility and the romance of a Victorian past. I had no idea at the time I was forming these ideas that steampunk had such a devoted cult following.

I then asked Dr. Eastwood to justify the decision to take this fascinating steampunk concept and meld it with the famous work by William Shakespeare:

One of the first decisions a director of a Shakespeare play has to make is whether or not to produce the play in period—using Elizabethan costumes.  Many directors eschew the traditional Renaissance modes in order to update the play’s themes or make them palatable for contemporary audiences.  Such an idea marries the old with the new—the historical with the modern—a concept that is in itself very Shakespearean, since his plays are meaningful in both historical and universal contexts. Twelfth Night, as with many of Shakespeare’s other plays, is both of its age and for all time.  A steampunk Twelfth Night merges the old with the new in exciting and deeply resonant ways.

Illyria, the world of the play, is a fictional place.  No such country exists on any known map.  And time moves differently in Illyria—along the familiar linear trajectory, but also in a cyclical motion, ebbing and flowing, folding the past into the present.  Indeed, for the festive characters like Sir Toby, time seems to stand still—another drink, another song, another practical joke.  But for the besotted lovers, time must untangle the knot of misapplied affections.  How will this fadge? Time will tell.

Kayleigh Larner, Kim Burns, Jessica Salans

Steampunk similarly collapses time, blending the past with the [future].  With an aesthetic based nineteenth century England but reaching toward a fantastical future, we see time both moving forward and looking back; it exists both as a historical moment and beyond it.  The steam technology and bizarre, archaic optical gear, put to use in unfamiliar ways also suggest that ordinary rules don’t apply in a steampunk setting.  The atmosphere created by the steampunk aesthetic underscores the temporally topsy-turvy Illyria, a place where the festive powers of timlessness will join forces to try and rid their world of darkness and grief.  But as Shakespeare ensures in his play, disruptive forces are powerful ones, and in the end, audiences leave anxiously hoping that true love and friendship did indeed prevail.

Interested Shakespeare lovers can read Dr. Eastwood’s study guide to prepare for the show.

I’ll be there opening night ready to review the show.  I hope to see you there as well.  Not just to support our local University Theatre students, but because SJSU has consistently produced outstanding stage productions, and I don’t think they’re going to let us down this time either.

Twelfth Night
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
Tickets Online
Or call 408 924-4555

Wheelchair Admissable

Steampunk + Shakespeare? Just might work!

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.
Twelfth Night, 3. 4

Fantastic news coming out of the San Jose State University theatre department!  Fans of the steampunk genre and scholars of Shakespeare will unite under one roof when Twelfth Night premieres on November 12.  Director Kathleen Normington, SJSU Theatre faculty since 1999, is bringing a new vision to the play in the hopes of introducing Shakespeare to a wider audience, reaching both students and the population at large.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most well known and oft produced dramas, focusing on themes of illusion and reality.  Steampunk is a popular sub-genre of science fiction, usually set in an historical time period featuring futuristic technology.  While Shakespeare and steampunk may seem to have nothing in common, the melding of steampunk visuals with Shakespeare’s written words will consummate into a beautiful rendition of the play that might actually help bring across the themes of Twelfth Night in unexpected ways.

The intention is to use the steampunk aesthetic to style the production and to highlight some of the themes of disguise and gender ambiguity within the play.  All signs are pointing to a visually striking production, and Kathleen notes that “especially at a university where our audience is young and fearful of Shakespeare, […] we need to capture them visually and then hope that the language and character will keep them involved.”

But Shakespeare purists have nothing to fear as Dr. Adrienne Eastwood from the SJSU English department has been brought in as dramaturge.  Dr. Eastwood has a Ph.D. from UC San Diego and recently published “Between Wedding and Bedding: The Epithalamic Sub-genre in Shakespeare’s Comedies” in Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.   She is excited to help in assuring that aside from the exciting visual aspects, the direction of the production will remain true to the themes and messages that Twelfth Night should be sending.  Both current and previous students will agree that this show will only shine with Dr. Eastwood involved.

Having these two great scholars come together to integrate these two fascinating ideas might be one of the most exciting things to happen to the SJSU Theatre Department.  The play will open on November 12, and you should all mark your calendars now as this electrifying play has already been generating a lot of buzz.  You will not want to miss out on your chance to see this unique production!

Twelfth Night
San Jose State University Theatre
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 at 7pm
Students/Seniors $10
General admission $20
Tickets Available Online, or call 408 924-4555.

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