Shakespearean comedy to add laughs to semester’s end


Katharine Golightly and Harrison Beckmann play the Lady Olivia and her steward. Photo: Molly Waits

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

This famous line kicks off William Shakespeare’s well-beloved comedy of mistaken identities, practical jokes and misplaced love: Twelfth Night.

All is not what it seems in Shakespeare’s fictional land of Illyria, where mischief and unrequited love combine for a hilariously unpredictable storyline. In the words of the servant Fabian, played by senior theatre arts major Ellis Schoolfield, “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

Featuring some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters, the play opens with the discovery of the two main characters, the Duke Orsino and Viola, played by junior theatre arts major Sterling Street and faculty graduate assistant Jessica Bowers, respectively. After her shipwreck in the unknown land of Illyria, the young Viola disguises herself as a man and enters the service of the Duke Orsino, who is hopelessly smitten with love for the Lady Olivia, played by staff GA Katharine Golightly.

Meanwhile, Lady Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch (played by Bob Jones Academy faculty member Chuck Nicholas), along with his crew of ragtag companions, play a series of hysterical practical jokes on Olivia’s steward, Malvolio (played by staff GA Harrison Beckmann), and confuse the plans of Orsino, Viola and Olivia.

“It’s a brilliant play, as it deals with the universal themes of illusion and things not being what they seem, the meaning of true love and how love can make any of us look like fools,” said Ron Pyle, the play’s director and head of department of theatre arts. “These are themes we can all relate to, and particularly [the University audience] who are in their late teens and early twenties.”

In contrast to the spectacle of the recently performed opera Aida and the large scope of last semester’s Cyrano de Bergerac, the set design and costumes of Twelfth Night are simple and straightforward. “I do think this is the most minimalist set that has ever been used in a Rodeheaver production,” Bowers said.

With less emphasis on the set, the focus is directed squarely on the actors and Shakespeare’s brilliant wordplay. The actors have to provide the energy and imagination to make the play come alive, Pyle said. “We have spent much of the rehearsal process working with the actors to make Shakespeare’s text seem like normal conversation,” Pyle said. 

As the semester winds down, Twelfth Night provides an opportunity to relax after finishing exams and final projects and appreciate a wide variety of characters and humor. “The various characters, played by Loren Crisp, Chuck Nicholas, Lauren Jacobs and others, are absolutely hilarious,” said junior theatre arts major Jack Cox, who plays the role of Sebastian. “They all have their different senses of humor and sides of comedy.”

The Classic Players production will stage three performances of the comic masterpiece in Rodeheaver Auditorium: 8 p.m. performances on May 7 and 8 and a 2 p.m. matinee performance on May 8.