This weekend, Saint Louis University’s theatre department performed Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and exceeded all expectations. With performances running from Friday, Oct. 10 through the 13th, the department put on quite a show. “Twelfth Night” is a play about miscommunication, identity and love. It is a comedy and. admittedly, my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. The plot follows a girl, Viola, played by Reed Mclean, as she gets shipwrecked and disguises herself as a man to serve the Duke Orsino, played by Ross Rubright. While there, she falls in love with the duke, who in turn is in love with the Lady Olivia, portrayed by Ellie Hill. When Orsino sends Viola to woo Olivia for him, Olivia falls for the disguised Viola. In the midst of the craziness, Viola’s twin brother shows up, whom she thought dead, leading to further escapades. A side plot follows the servants of Olivia’s court as they prank one of the rude servants. While immensely amusing and comedic, it also portrayed the themes of loss, love and bittersweet life.
Over the course of the play, there were two main sets: Orsino’s court and Olivia’s. They achieved this by having two low balconies on opposing sides of the stage. Depending on which court they were in, it would focus on a different side of the stage. However, they managed to never make the scene feel cramped or off-center. Instead of setting the play in 16th-century England, they set it in the 1930s on the beachfront. By doing so, they were able to play up to the comedy that Shakespeare wrote into the script.
While I have seen several productions of “Twelfth Night,” this one really blew me out of the water. All the actors and actresses were phenomenal. One of the things that really made this play stand out from the others was its use of music. Almost every scene had some song or music in it to add to the feeling of the scene but to also develop the characters and connections. Whether it was Feste, played by Michael Lanham, playing the piano, or the actors singing together, it helped develop the scenes. Some of the songs made me laugh, such as the ones about drunken revelry, and others made me cry, like the one where McLean and Rubright sang and danced together. However, the ending really pulled at my heartstrings. As the last scene closed, Lanham started playing the piano and a fellow actor, Andre Eslamian, joined him. They started singing together, and as the song progressed, all of the actors slowly came on stage, dancing out certain scenes from the play. As the song came to a close, all of the actors joined in singing, “That’s all one, our play is done.” It was a beautifully choreographed scene that flowed and fit in perfectly with the themes that had been portrayed throughout the play.
All of the actors did a fantastic job of transporting the audience to a different world. Shakespeare can be difficult to act out smoothly, but this troupe performed it perfectly and made me forget that it even was Shakespeare. They were clear and easy to follow. However, the real star of the show was Michael Lanham, who portrayed Feste the clown. We were informed before the show started that he had broken his ankle a week ago and would, therefore, have crutches. But he did not let this dissuade him from performing spectacularly. He managed to make the crutches feel like a natural, intended part of the act, while also using them to aid in humor. His witty comebacks and smart replies stole the show and had everyone laughing.
Over all, this was a fantastic show that I would have seen 10 more times if possible. Saint Louis University Theatre hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I don’t think it will. The passion of all the directors, actors and crew was tangible in the air as the play progressed. Congratulations to all those involved in putting together such a fantastic play.