Sunday, July 17, 2016

Twelfth Night: The Final

Orsino
Photo: Catherine Young
The Great Lakes Theater touring production of Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio) in celebration of the First Folio has concluded, the set and costumes packed away until such time as they are required again.

There were high school teacher colleagues in attendance these past two weeks expressing interest in having the show visit their school. Why not? The duration (less than forty-five minutes) fits neatly into most school periods. If all four of our actors weren’t already booked as members of the residency program, that would work out quite easily. If the show wanted, we’ll make it happen.

Transporting the play to sites on the near east side last week, to Shaker Heights and to Tremont were great fun, each a different experience in how the performance conformed to the space. Best of all, however, was when we produced a three day stand in Brett Hall this past weekend in the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

This has as much to do with time as place. You may have heard there’s lotsa stuff happening in Cleveland this week. That was part of the reason the Folger Library chose to send us the First Folio in July, for maximum visibility and impact, the arrival of the Republican National Convention.

What the RNC has also provided, however, has been an opportunity for the city to engage in the kind of public works which might otherwise be shouted down as a waste of money or a diversion from issues that might better be addressed. I do not agree with these opinions, they are the kind of argument people are always using to prevent progress.

To take one example, the redesign of Public Square was completed a few weeks ago and the park (I keep referring to it as a park, is that all right?) has opened to the people. It’s beautiful, and folks are coming and they are enjoying it.

Olivia
Photo: Catherine Young
For most of my life, Public Square has not been a destination for anyone. There was no there there, it was a site for demonstrations and for people to congregate who had little else to do. Yes, there was always the Soldier and Sailors Monument, and following its renovation in 2010 has itself been a glorious and historic site to visit.

I remember this thing that happened once. For a fee our high school marching band was part of a parade to gain a certain radio station broadcast rights to the Cleveland Browns. The station's plan was to start at Public Square and march down to Municipal Stadium and harass Art Model as he met with the interested parties at the stadium.

The entire event felt sketchy to me, our marching band for rent like this. I recall observing the dozens of people who had gathered downtown for the parade. It was the early 1980s. “It’s cool to see so many people out here,” I said, out loud. I was a sophomore. One of the seniors told me, “Hansen, don’t be an dupe. Look at them. None of these losers have a job.”

Just this past Saturday I sat with my kids on the steps at the large field watching guys plays Frisbee, my daughter sat in the shade of a tree and drew in her sketchbook.

Public Square
Earlier, we sat with my mother at a table at the recently opened Rebol, a cafe located right there on the Square, having lunch. My mother has lived on the West Side her entire life, primarily in Lakewood. She remembers the golden days when families walked Euclid Avenue for shopping, my father worked for Cleveland Trust, working in the tower which is now The 9. She knows downtown. But Public Square?

Mom looked up from her dish, on this cloudless summer’s day, kids a few yards away splashing in the fountain, the boy and I playing ping-pong at their outdoor table, and mused, “I never pictured myself eating lunch right here.”

She had just attended the final performance of our Twelfth Night. She took a bus downtown, saw a play at the library, met us on the corner and walked to the park for lunch, like you do, downtown in any major city.

Mom was one of three company mothers at the play on Saturday. Chelsea’s mom was also there, and Shaun’s folks. Each of Chennelle’s and Luke’s parents were at Shaker last Saturday. It was an exciting close, to be presenting the play so close to the actual book, the reason the production had been commissioned.

It was great fun to create this particular production, inspired not only by the John Hughes teen comedies and dramas of the mid-1980s, but also, for example, Just One of the Guys -- which is itself based on the plot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Orsino & Viola
Photo: Catherine Young
During the pre-show speech I claimed that despite the abridgment, every word is from Shakespeare … well, most, uh, almost every word is from Shakespeare. There were also references to and song cues from Robert Palmer, Dream Academy, The Hooters, The Cure, Level 42, The Smiths, Duran Duran (two songs), Bronski Beat, Prefab Sprout, Whitney Houston, Spandau Ballet and Prince.

Why so 80s? Do you know that often as a warm-up, introductory exercise our actor-teachers wil ask, “What is your first name and what era from all of world history would you choose to live in if you could?” And when they do, a startling number of today’s high school students say they wished they lived in the 1980s.

I know, right?

Then there’s me. I graduated from high school thirty years ago, in 1986. It seemed auspicious to set the play a neat thirty years ago. It wasn’t a great year by the standards of popular culture. Science recently determined 1986 to be the worst year in the history of pop music, by which they mean that never before or since have so many songs in the Top 40 sounded so alike, or relied so entirely on electric keyboards.

That was also the summer the movie Howard The Duck was released. I saw it in the theater, twice, because I wanted to like it (see also: Lea Thompson.)

Whatever, okay? Just bogus. Time periods make me focus, and when I focus I can tell a coherent story. Fortunately, as I had intended, a great deal of our audience was in my age cohort -- or teenagers, and would you believe the kids today totally know the song Notorious and who Madonna was.

Interestingly enough, fall 1986 - my first semester in college, mind, I was not longer a high school student myself - was right when fashion turned to a darker palette, when those artists who were wearing white in 1984 were suddenly wearing black.

Malvolio & Olivia
Photo: Catherine Young
I was so excited when I saw this reflected in Zack’s costume design. A hipster like our Malvolio may have been wearing colors a few years earlier, but here he is almost monochromatic. The “yellow stockings” would not have been as out of character in 1983.

And poor Shaun. Zack crafted the perfect early-mid-late eighties ensemble for him, with pleated pants and a sweater vest festooned with geometric shapes. I, too, had a sweater vest then. Teenagers in sweater vests, like we were all about to have breakfast at Denny’s with our senior discount. That would be perfectly ironic today but we didn’t know what irony was.

Most enjoyable, I believe, was the opportunity, the challenge to take a play as richly complex and funny as Twelfth Night, to edit it without losing the color of the language, to streamline the story without losing the emotional impact, to be able to eliminate certain beloved characters without feeling you were really missing them, and most of all, to create a romantic comedy that made people both laugh and applaud the efforts of all four protagonists.

In adapting the piece to a playful, high school setting, we could make the emotions high while keeping the stakes relatively low. In the end, four paired off into two, and it was at once surprising and also made complete sense. Everyone has a date for Homecoming!

Like Joe Barnes said, I am such a fucking romantic.

First Folio - The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare is in residence at the Main Branch of the Cleveland Public Library through July 30, 2016.

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