Twelfth Night Uses Comedy to Explore Timeless Themes

In a comedy where very few people are who they say they are, a 5C interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” will take place this weekend at Pomona College's Seaver Theatre. The story itself presents characters who either state or exude the famous line, “Then think you are right, I am not what I am,” leaving the audience questioning who the fools, the idiots and the trailblazers really are—and if they'll stay that way.  

The play centers around twins Sebastian and Viola, who are separated from each other by a shipwreck and find themselves in Illyria, a region in the Balkan Peninsula. As Director Art Horowitz stated in his director’s notes, “Shakespeare transforms Illyria into a mad and magical place… with lovers, liars, tricksters, clowns, a wastrel Lord of Misrule, and a humorless misanthrope.”

More significantly, “Twelfth Night” reaches beyond its time, featuring characters who evolve to realize that physical attraction is more directly linked to emotional connection than it is to mere gender roles. Horowitz continued in his note: “issues of gender, identity, and physical and sexual attraction cloud and confuse all of the relationships.” 

“[This production celebrates] the ambiguity and incoherence of desire in the abstract… [exploring] the firmly seated queer realities of these particular characters and the process through which they process sexuality, gender, and class,” Assistant Director Claire Eldredge-Burns PO ’17 wrote in her note. “Twelfth Night is a play about messy, incoherent relationships.”

The set was appropriately accented with minimalist props and stage design. This aesthetic presented a certain degree of universality, emphasizing that the events and relationships could have taken place anywhere and happened to anybody. Adding to this, the fusion of modern and historical approaches to costume design gave the piece a timelessness that contrasts those of a traditional Shakespeare play. 

In an email to TSL, Barbara Teisch PO ’19, cast as Olivia, discussed how the production allowed her to be involved in the theatre department.

“I wanted to get involved in the theatre department at Pomona so I decided to audition!” she wrote. “Also, I thought it would be really valuable to get some more experience with Shakespeare. I’m really thankful to have this opportunity and it’s been so much fun.”

Teisch's sentiments were clearly shared by her castmates, with each offering a passionate performance. While the theater was not as packed as expected for opening night, it did not take away from the excitement of the story and its ability to enliven the crowd.

“[I hope the audience] come[s] away from the show with the realization that not all of Shakespeare’s comedies are so carefree and happy,” she said. “I think that it’s easy to miss out on some of that depth.”

More than anything, Teisch was enthusiastic about how performance interacts with the 5C community.

“Everyone's friends come out to support one another,” she explained. “I’ve loved going to my friend’s plays and a cappella concerts so far. Now I can’t wait to show them what I’ve been working on this whole semester. This applies to the role of performing arts in general—it’s an awesome way to share something with others.”

Specific times and dates for performances are Friday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m.

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