Twelfth Night, presented by the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, St. Petersburg,
Florida, June 12-28, 2009
Cameron Hunt McNabb
of South Florida
Cameron Hunt. "Review of Twelfth Night, presented by the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, St. Petersburg, Florida, June 12-28, 2009." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10) <URL:http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-1/hunttwel.htm>.
Directed by John Conlon and musically directed by Latoya
McCormick. Choreographed by Margaret Musmon. Lighting by Frank Hale. With
Robert Colwell as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, William Glenn as Orsino, Joe McCue as
Sebastian, Melanie Marquez as Viola, Tom Massey as Malvolio, Richard Miller as
Sir Toby Belch, Trish Perry as Feste, and Holly Weber as Olivia.
- Never judge a theatre by its
exterior. As I pulled into the St. Petersburg
Little Theatre, I first noticed the interstate barreling next to its back
parking lot and then the building itself, looking bruised from its rough
neighbor. I was a bit skeptical. But by the end of the evening, I was
pleasantly surprised; the night afforded me a cozy theatre, a delightful play,
and as much complimentary wine and coffee as I desired. The St. Petersburg
Little Theatre garnered one more fan.
- The SPLT is the oldest continuously
operating community theatre in Florida, with Twelfth Night concluding
its 84th season. The entire organization runs on its volunteers
(true community theatre!), and their repertoire focuses primarily on modern
drama and musicals. Accordingly, its Twelfth Night was unusual in both
content and form.
- The theatre advertised the production
as “Shakespeare with a splash
of rum and lime set to the tunes of a Caribbean beat.” Director John Conlon
placed Illyria somewhere among the present-day islands, even including casual
references to Haiti and Martinique. This transplantation is not unique, as a few
productions have been set in the Caribbean in the last decade, but the locale’s
familiarity to its Floridian audience made it particularly appropriate.
- The set was
simple enough—the Orsino and Olivia households were represented by doors on
stage right and left respectively, while a palm-fronded tiki hut took center
stage. The props consisted of a preponderance of maracas, martini glasses, and
paper umbrellas; the mock fight scene was particularly comical when Sir Andrew Aguecheek
and Cesario used large umbrellas as their “unhatched rapiers” (3.4.236). Similarly,
most of the cast was costumed in contemporary tropical beachwear: Sir Toby
Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek looked like they had jumped out of a Tommy
Bahama catalogue. ‘Antonia’ (Antonio was cast as female) resembled Captain Jack
Sparrow, and Viola’s disguise—a pastel blazer and fake mustache—looked
conspicuously like a resort manager. Both she and Sebastian sported ponytails,
making their androgynous nature even more pronounced. Olivia, Malvolio, and
Maria wore mourning clothes through the first half of the play for the recent
death of Olivia’s brother. Her ‘veil’ was a pair of humorously oversized
designer sunglasses. Malvolio however had the most, and most diverse, costume
changes: at first, his black, clean-cut suit had a Mormon look, perhaps the
twenty-first century equivalent of an Elizabethan Puritan. However later, during
his discovery of the counterfeit love letter, he wore black-rimmed glasses with
tape on the bridge, evoking the stereotypical nerd. His cross-gartering scene
featured yellow knee-highs and Guitar Hero boxers.
- Since the SPLT is a community
theatre, the caliber of acting was mixed. Trish Perry (Feste), Richard Miller
(Sir Toby Belch), and Robert Colwell (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) were wonderful. All
three handled the pinball wit of their scenes rather well. Melanie Marquez gave
a fairly strong performance as Viola, playing her as an innocent yet determined
young woman caught in the throngs of the aristocratic households. Yet the
production had some weak points as well—William Glenn (Orsino) and Holly Weber
(Olivia) were often forced and dry in their line delivery, and the ensemble dancing
was mediocre at best.
- Despite its flaws, the production offered
two important insights into Twelfth Night: first, it highlighted the oft-slighted
musical portions of the play, and second, it replicated the Carnivalesque
atmosphere of the traditional Twelfth Night festival. Originally, the five musical
sequences in Twelfth Night were meant to showcase the vocal skills of
Robert Armin (the Chamberlain’s Men’s clown). As such, in modern productions,
the play’s music risks appearing as a clunky interlude for those less familiar
with Shakespearean language or the conventions of festive comedy. This
production, however, replaced the original songs with contemporary ones that
were not only lively, engaging, and accessible but also entertaining and
informative. With selections like “Hot Hot! Hot!” and “The Banana Boat Song,”
the audience drank up the song-and-dance routines, even clapping mid-play after
each of them. (I couldn’t help but think of “Hot! Hot! Hot!” as a reference to Malvolio’s
humor rather than the weather, but alas I fear I was the only one.) And the
lyrics of “The Banana Boat Song”—“Daylight come, and me wanna go
home”—concluded the play quite well.
- Conlon chose the Caribbean backdrop
to invoke the “night of misrule” and revelry associated with the Elizabethan
Twelfth Night, which concluded the Saturnalian Christmas celebrations. Since
all that remains of the pseudo-pagan holiday are a handful of rituals and the
“Twelve Days of Christmas” song, replicating the spirit of the day in
Elizabethan England is difficult. However, a similar spirit of release exists
in our modern society during vacations, such as one to the Caribbean (perhaps
on a cruise, with an open bar?). Thus, in this production, the calypso musical
numbers and the romantic “drama” of the lovers looked like an excerpt from
MTV’s Spring Break. The audience understood the social signification of
the setting: what happens in Illyria stays in Illyria. The characters (and
audience) are given license to break with the norms of society, knowing that
order will be restored when daylight comes and they all wanna go home.
- I look forward to the SPLT’s 85th
season, abutting interstate and all. If music be the food of love, play on!.
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Ed. David
Bevington. NY: Bantam, 1988.
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2010-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).