“Twelfth Night” is hardly as well-known as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, such as “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet.” Yet that does not mean the play isn’t good – especially when the UC Irvine drama department is putting it on.
Many non-drama fans go into a play skeptical, especially if that play is by Shakespeare. Rest assured, there is no need for any skepticism when it comes to “Twelfth Night,” directed by second-year M.F.A. drama student Beth Gardiner. It is just downright funny, whether you are a fan of Shakespeare or not.
The madness begins with a shipwreck that separates a twin brother and sister. Both think the other died in the wreck, when in reality both are alive. They end up in the same city, and the sister, Viola, impersonates her brother so she can get work. Thus the mix-ups, mash-ups and the laughing begin.
On top of it all, there is a subplot of rather ridiculous commoners living in the countess’ palace. While these commoners may be part of the subplot, they are the heart of the play. There is fighting, drinking, trickery, yellow tights, cross gartering – you name it.
However, what made the play great was a snotty butler named Malvolio, played by Nicholas Kauffman, an M.F.A. drama student. Shakespeare deliberately gave Malvolio humorous lines in “Twelfth Night,” but it was Kauffman who made Malvolio funny. From the way he talked to the way he looked and walked, everything Kauffman did portrayed a snotty butler.
At one point in the play, Kauffman pranced around in yellow tights, showing off his cross garter with a devilish smile, convincing the other characters and the audience that he was crazy. This was by far the funniest scene in the play and Kauffman played it perfectly; it was not so ridiculous that it seemed incredible, but crazy enough to have everyone in the room believing that he was mad.
Yet, Malvolio wasn’t all comedy. Kauffman got a chance to show he could play a more serious tone too. In one of the most powerful scenes of the play, Kauffman had the whole audience silent after he broke down and cried. To see such an energetic, comedic character be transformed into such a serious tone was rather moving.
The protagonist in this play, Viola, was played by Jennice Butler, a second-year M.F.A. drama student. Although Viola is not as energetic as Malvolio, she connected with the audience in a different way. Butler did a fantastic job expressing love, shock and sadness through her facial expressions, which in turn allowed the audience to connect with her.
With that said, the one downfall in Butler’s performance is the lack of variation in her character in the lighter scenes of the play, which at times made it seem one-dimensional.
However, “Twelfth Night” was perplexing at times. But despite the complexity of the plot, the play was surprisingly clear. With all the mix-ups, confusion and yellow tights in the play, it would seem that the play could get confusing at times. But that was not the case at all.
There were some subtle additions to the stage direction to help explain the plot when it got complex. One must credit the director, because it worked beautifully. The changes to the stage direction were not intrusive but rather complementary to the plot.
All in all, the play was very enjoyable. It had everything a good comedy should have: laughs, fighting, drinking, love and of course … yellow tights.
“Twelfth Night” will be performed Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. in addition to a 2 p.m. showing on Saturday in Winifred Smith Hall.