For eight days this month, the USC Department of Theatre and Dance is taking on the challenge of presenting a 400-year-old play in the 21st century. Directed by Louis Butelli, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is showing at the Drayton Hall Theatre on College Street.
Attending the show on Tuesday night with almost no background knowledge other than the basics of the plot, I was completely open-minded and ready to observe and absorb.
One of the first things that struck me upon seating was the stage setup, bordered on both sides by beautifully crafted building facades and filled in the middle by a raised platform – both of which I would see being used creatively by cast members.
Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises was the singing talent of third-year broadcast journalism student John Romanski, who played Feste. The warmth in his voice resonated throughout the entire play, from his first note to his last. The slight guitar slips were easily masked by his and first-year theater student Andy Ratliff’s harmonies.
Malvolio, played by second-year MFA acting candidate Nicolas Stewart, held an essential role in the play that propelled the plot forward. Despite Stewart’s fast talking, his flamboyant, unapologetic body language spoke louder than words and added an element of light-hearted humor.
The reality and boldness of the scene in which Malvolio was locked in a shock chamber made me a bit uneasy, though I believe the only reason I felt this way was due to the actors’ abilities to make it seem all too real. For that, they did their job well.
Outside of the acting, the stage crew did a great job of immersing the audience into the play. With the live music, lighting effects and projected background, it was difficult not to feel as much a part of the show as the actors.
“It just feels like music is a really necessary ingredient to fuel these characters on their journey,” Butelli said.
One of the most immersive scenes is the four-member sword fight, during which Hollywood-esque music played, strobe lights flashed and a video projection flickered. Combined, these elements imposed a fresh, modern lens on the Shakespearean classic.
Altogether, the cast members both in front of and behind the scenes had an undeniable chemistry that held the plot together and made the relationships seem all the more real. Vaguely, to avoid spoiling the end, most of the characters’ hearts were satisfied — in contrast to numerous other Shakespearean tragedies.
According to Butelli, “If we do it all right, the love will be what people walk away with.” After witnessing a final kiss and final dance, I left feeling warm and with that same love.
“Twelfth Night” is playing at 8 p.m. this Wednesday through Saturday, along with a second Saturday showing at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students.