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N.C. State University Center Stage will bring Staunton, VA-based Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, whose motto is “We do it with the lights on,” to NCSU’s Stewart Theatre to perform two of its fabulous no-frills productions of the Immortal bard’s classic comedies, Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure, on March 1 and 2, respectively. The youthful and very, very talented performers eloquently interpret the Shakespearean text for the 21st century audience, emphasizing the wonderful wordplay of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatis William Shakespeare (1564-1616) over dazzling high-tech effects.
Davis McCallum will direct Twelfth Night, Or What You Will (1601-02); and Fred Nelson will direct Measure for Measure (1604-05).
The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express summarizes the plot of Twelfth Night as follows:
"Orsino, Duke of Illyria [Gregory Jon Phelps], expresses his love for the mourning Lady Olivia [Shirine Babb], who is not admitting the Duke’s men sent to woo for him. Viola [Alyssa Wilmoth] arrives in Illyria after a shipwreck, which seems to have killed her twin brother [Sebastian (Nathan C. Crocker)]. She decides to disguise herself as a man and serve the Duke. Olivia’s gentlewoman, Maria [Joyce Peifer], chides Olivia’s kinsman, Sir Toby Belch [Christopher Seiler], for staying out too late, for drinking too much, and for bringing in a foolish knight, Sir Andrew Aguecheek [Paul Fidalgo], to woo Olivia. The Duke sends his new servant, Cesario (the disguised Viola), to woo Olivia for him. Cesario/Viola confesses ‘whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.’ Maria, Olivia, and Malvolio [Jeremy West] all chide the Clown [Feste (Fred Arsenault)] for being absent from Olivia’s household. The Clown regains the favor of Olivia while earning the scorn of Malvolio. Cesario arrives to woo Olivia for the Duke. Olivia says she cannot love the Duke. When Cesario leaves, Olivia confesses affection for Cesario. Olivia then pretends that Cesario gave her a ring from the Duke and sends Malvolio to run after Cesario and return the ring. Malvolio ‘returns’ the ring and Cesario/Viola realizes Olivia is in love with him/her. Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, is still alive and tells the man who saved him, Antonio [Aaron Hochhalter], that his sister is drowned and that he must leave Antonio and go to Orsino’s court. After Sebastian departs, Antonio confesses he has enemies in Orsino’s court, but he will follow Sebastian anyway. Toby, Andrew, and the Clown stay up late singing and drinking. Maria advises them to be quieter; Malvolio then breaks up the party and threatens to report them all to Olivia. Maria devises a plan to put Malvolio in his place. Cesario/Viola falls more deeply in love with the Duke. Olivia falls more deeply in love with Cesario/Viola. Sebastian arrives in Illyria. Yellow stockings, dark rooms, challenges, and marriage proposals ensue.”
On the SSE web site, director Davis McCallum writes, “Twelfth Night’s almost Chekhovian balance of melancholy and delight, of pathos and humor, makes it unique among Shakespeare’s comedies. [In staging this show], I think our challenge is not only to strike an appropriate balance between these contrasting tones, but to find a way to allow these opposites to feed each other. It’s not about juxtaposition. It’s about simultaneity. The Elizabethans had a famous catch phrase, coincidentia oppositorum, which described the aesthetic phenomenon of having your cake and eating it, too. It doesn’t just mean a balance between contrasting elements; it means both elements present in the same moment. When Sir Andrew pipes up with ‘I was adored once, too,’ it breaks your heart, and you want to bust out laughing. Twelfth Night is a song meant to be sung ‘both high and low.’ It’s forlorn and upbeat, both at once, like a New Orleans funeral march.”
McCallum adds, “The gender issues in the play are also in a delightful state of both-at-once. To my mind, Viola’s male drag is different than Rosalind’s in As You Like It — more than a mere disguise, it’s a way of coping with her twin’s drowning by assuming his exterior form. ‘I my brother know/Yet living in my glass.’ It’s telling that Shakespeare doesn’t reveal the central character’s given name until the last scene of the play. We know her only as ‘Cesario,’ a construction of identity in which Viola and Sebastian are both contained: ‘I am all the daughters of my father’s house. And all the brother’s too. And yet I know not.’ She’s man. She’s woman. She’s what you will.”
The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express summarizes the plot of Measure for Measure as follows:
"The Duke of Vienna [Jason Vail], claiming urgent business abroad, leaves control of the city to Angelo [Gregory Jon Phelps], his most precise deputy. Angelo swiftly restores old laws against sexual depravity, closes the city’s brothels, and arrests fornicators. Claudio [Nathan C. Crocker] is immediately arrested and sentenced to death for apparent premarital acts with his pregnant fiancee, Juliet [Alyssa Wilmoth]. Claudio entreats his friend, Lucio [Paul Fidalgo], to find Isabella [Shirine Babb], Claudio’s sister, and ask her to plead to Angelo for his life. Though Isabella is about to become a nun, she agrees to petition Angelo. The Duke, meanwhile, has disguised himself as a friar in order to observe Angelo’s management of the City. Angelo at first refuses Isabella’s suit, but then agrees to stay Claudio’s execution — only if Isabella will consent to certain demands. Isabella returns to Claudio to tell him of Angelo’s conditions; Claudio asks Isabella to save his life by giving in to Angelo’s requests. The Duke — still disguised as a friar — decides to intervene. Plots to rescue Isabella’s integrity, save Claudio’s head, and expose Angelo’s treachery ensue.”
Director Fred Nelson writes that Measure for Measure “is sometimes referred to as a ‘problem play’ because it does not seem to fit easily into the category of comedy or tragedy and because its ending is unsettling. The issues of Measure are timeless: sex and sin, justice and mercy, religion and society, law and order, good and bad. Shakespeare does not give us answers to these difficult issues but rather seems to challenge us with questions, such as when Escalus asks the audience, ‘Which is the wiser here, Justice or Iniquity?’ Lucio’s comment to Claudio in Act One gives a very understandable response, ‘I had as lief have the foppery of freedom as the morality of imprisonment.’”
Nelson adds, “The comedy in Measure is dark. The drama of the story is sometimes a bit absurd. Does the term ‘measure for measure’ imply judgment or forgiveness? In staging the play we have tried to embrace the questions, contradictions, and absurdities that are inherent in it, including Shakespeare’s use of a romantic comedy resolution to this near tragedy.”
N.C. State University Center Stage presents the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in Twelfth Night (Tuesday, March 1, at 8 p.m.) and Measure for Measure (Wednesday, March 2, at 8 p.m.) in the Stewart Theatre (second floor) in the Talley Student Center on Cates Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina. $22-$27 ($13 students) per show, except $8 NCSU students and $17.50-$21.50 NSCU faculty/staff. Note: There is a 25 percent discount when purchasing tickets for both shows. 919/515-1100. N.C. State University Center Stage: http://www7.acs.ncsu.edu/center_stage/calendar.htm [inactive 7/06]. Shenandoah Shakespeare Express: http://www.shenandoahshakespeare.com/ [inactive 10/09]. Shakespeare Resources: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. Twelfth Night: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTNF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTwel.html (1866 Globe Edition). Measure for Measure: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMMF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMeas.html (1866 Globe Edition).