Most people don’t realize that in Shakespeare’s days, his plays were not the high-brow cultural experiences we think of. They’re not all Sir Laurence Olivier/Dame Maggie Smith posh English accents. These were bawdy, low-brow shows that “the masses” could enjoy.
I was reminded of that when I saw Twelfth Night at the Indy Fringe Theatre this past Thursday night. Directed by Depauw University professor Amy Hayes, this was a more laid-back and casual look at the story of cross-dressing bawdiness and lovelorn ladies falling in love with women-dressed-as-eunuchs.
The Indy Fringe Theatre promotes a more casual, relaxed atmosphere anyway, so Hayes was able to use that to her advantage, setting the stage as a theatre-in-the-round production with no scenery. Each actor had a wooden box they carried in and moved around as the scene and their parts called for. The boxes contained any necessary costume additions and props — fake beards, swords, scarves, and hats — and could be pulled into the center of the circle for a piece of stage furniture as it was needed.
Since Hayes hails from Depauw in Greencastle, many of her actors were from Depauw as well, although a couple of them came from outside the university (including one from Ball State. Go Cards!)
I also noticed that they were missing a few male actors, and had women playing the parts, including Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Grace Lazarz). I finally realized how they were differentiating between male and female characters when I noticed the women were all wearing colored ballet-style shoes, and the men (male characters) were wearing white Chuck Taylors. It was a nice touch that helped viewers understand what was going on.
The introduction of characters was extremely interesting. Each cast member stood on a box, and they went around the circle announcing the part they were playing. And if they played more than one part, the entire cast shouted “AND!” and the actor announced his other character name.
As the play commenced, rather than having characters move on and off stage, they sat down on their box along the circle. When they were sitting, they were “off.” When they were standing, they were part of the action.
Hayes’ Twelfth Night is a modernistic telling of the tale, having us relying on our own imaginations to tell us what the scenery was. Actors standing as statues in the garden. Actors sitting, holding up various items in the market. Malvolio crouching behind a box and the swords converted into jailhouse bars.
Twelfth Night is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays — I always love the comedies — and one that I highly recommend. And Indy Fringe always does a good job in taking traditional plays and making them more modern and accessible. While I’ve seen plenty of Shakespeare, I have to say, I enjoyed this play immensely.