The theater arts department at Long Beach State is premiering its first play of the semester on Thursday with William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
This is a play that will make you laugh, but it might also cause you to question how you are perceived in the world and how you want to present yourself.
“Twelfth Night” is best described as a romantic comedy. Like many of Shakespeare’s work, it’s also part social commentary and in this case it takes on the current social conversation about gender identity and representation.
In addition to the play’s commentary, the casting for the play subverts expectations about gender representation in the play by casting different gender identities in the roles than they didn’t historically appear in.
“We have this girl who is pretending to be a man and this man who is inexplicably having feelings for who he thinks is a man,” said Madison Tawney, who plays one of the comedic roles in the play as Malvolio.
“It’s just really cool to bring Shakespeare’s conversation about gender into a modern version of a conversation about gender,” said Tawney.
Sydney Barton plays Feste, a jester in service to one of the characters. According to them, fashion is another key element of expression in the play.
“It was a really interesting idea to take something that has existed for 400 years and putting a modern spin, something that people can relate to today, which includes the gender aspect of it,” said Barton. “As well as how we, our generation expresses ourselves through fashion, and how we like to present ourselves.”
The play is being directed by Peter Howard, a freelance director out of Los Angeles who is making a return to directing at CSULB. He previously directed “Dear Harvey.” The play was written by Patricia Lowrey who still teaches playwriting here at CSULB.
“One of the things I’ve most loved about working on this production is that, of course the whole cast but all of our designers are undergraduates,” said Howard. “I’m really excited that everything the audiences see on stage here will have been created or embodied by students here at the university within this department.”
The plot is broken up into several parts. The main storyline involving shipwrecked twins, neither knowing of the other’s survival but both ending up in the foreign land of Illyria. The play begins proper when the sister Viola, played by Sofia Moreno, disguises herself as a male page in an effort to get employment with the Duke of Illyria, Orsino, played by Theodore Taylor III.
The duke is currently courting Lady Olivia, played by Zariah Grant. The beginning of the play establishes quickly that she is not interested in his advances.
The subplot, which features a large portion of the comedic elements, involves Olivia’s servants. They play a trick on the stuffiest of Olivia’s servants, the aforementioned Malvolio which sends his character’s arc in a completely unexpected direction.
“Twelfth Night” will run through March 4. Tickets can be purchased from the main stage box office or online.