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Shakespeare’s Comedy Twelfth Night Kicks Off Davidson’s Theatre Season

by Robert Abare '13
Twelfth Night
Senior Nick McGuire and junior Kara Copeland play the leading roles as Duke Orsino and Viola in the Davidson College production of “Twelfth Night.” (Photo by Jordan Luebkemann)

Davidson College invites the public to a journey of mistaken identity and reclaimed love in one of William Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, Twelfth Night. The college's Theatre Department will produce the play in the Duke Family Performance Hall on October 25-27 and November 1-2. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors, $10 for faculty/staff and $6 for students, and may be purchased at the Union ticket office by calling 704-894-2135 or on the ticket office website.

The show begins at 8 p.m. on October 25-26, 2 p.m. on October 27, 8:15 p.m. on November 1 and 8 p.m. on November 2.

SHIPWRECK SPELLS TROUBLE

Twelfth Night follows the story of the maiden Viola, who finds herself shipwrecked onto the shores of fantastical Illyria. Separated from her twin brother, Viola disguises herself as a young man to enter the service of Duke Orsino, which results in a convoluted, gender-bending, and often amusing love triangle.

Director Steve Umberger praised the play's many appealing qualities. "Twelfth Night is an excellent Shakespeare comedy because it's colorful, watchable, full of action, and is just plain fun," he said. "It also has so much to say about what it means to love and be loved."

Umberger is the founder and former manager of Charlotte Repertory Theatre, and current manager of Festival Stage Theatre Company in Winston Salem. Umberger's last production at Davidson was Communicating Doors in 2008, and he is excited to return to Davidson to direct Twelfth Night. "I've always wanted to direct Twelfth Night because I've acted in it many times," he said. "I think the play will also be very accessible to a Davidson audience because it concerns young love and mistaken identity."

SCHOLARS CALL IT 'PERFECT'

Charles A. Dana Professor of English and Shakespeare scholar Cynthia Lewis explained the tremendous acclaim that surrounds Twelfth Night. "Trevor Nunn, a director with the Royal Shakespeare Company and maker of a filmed version of Twelfth Night, has referred to the play as one of very few ‘perfect' works of Western art," she said.

"No doubt about it, Twelfth Night is an exquisite play, whose intricate plotting, lyricism, and unembarrassed, unrestrained expressions of and commitment to love render it a confection," she added.

Kara Copeland '15, who will play the lead role of Viola, expressed her enthusiasm for the production. "I'm in love with my character, which is both delightful and scary in a way because many of the characters in the play also fall in love with her," she said. "As an actress, I feel the obligation to make her appeal seem real."

Copeland also pointed out the 400-year-old play's remarkable relevance to modern audiences. "Twelfth Night is particularly relatable because everyone understands what its like to have a crush on that person who doesn't like you back," she said.

GIRL PLAYS BOY

The unrequited love in Twelfth Night results in part from the fact that Viola is disguised as the opposite gender for most of the play. "I've been practicing my manly walk," she quipped. "The director told me to start watching men's posture around campus."

"I encourage my actors to take risks," Umberger added. "In this play the characters are faced with incredibly difficult and life-changing tasks they must accomplish, and I like to see those challenges happen in the moment."

Lewis also commented on Twelfth Night's thematic distinctiveness. "In so many respects, it is one of Shakespeare's least resolved plays," she said. "This is the only Shakespearean comedy in which the cross-dressed heroine is still dressed as a boy when the play closes."

"Do such loose ends and open-ended questions make Twelfth Night less than ‘perfect'?" Lewis wondered. "Maybe not. But the play's resistance to closure, while delighting some audiences, leaves others feeling as melancholy as Feste's closing song: ‘the rain, it raineth every day.'"