Philelectic Society Fills Twelfth Night with Color and Laughs
By Theodore P. Mahne
With a vibrantly colorful production and a parade of laughs, the Jesuit Philelectic Society continues its fall season this weekend with a charming rendition of Twelfth Night.
The company impressively tackled a pair of plays by William Shakespeare this semester, staging a well-received As You Like It last weekend.
With Twelfth Night, the cast takes on one of the Bard’s most beloved comedies, which includes so many of his common themes from unrequited love to gender-bending identity mix-ups, all while eliciting laughs blending clever wordplay with the broadest of slapstick comedy.
Subtitled “What You Will,” Twelfth Night invites new ideas and perspectives in interpretation. Indeed, the universality of Shakespeare’s works have led to productions over the centuries transplanting settings from ancient mythical realms to futuristic other worlds; from the Middle Ages to contemporary modern dress stagings.
Showcasing a splendidly realized vision, director Kate Arthurs-Goldberg sets this Twelfth Night in the Jazz Age of the Roaring ’20s, a time of flappers and speakeasies. The result is a delight. Revelry and mirth abound.
Throughout, Arthurs-Goldberg’s cast bursts from the stage with exuberance, each creating characters of distinction. Attention is paid to even the tiny details in the background.
Here, Duke Orsino’s palace is a classy nightclub. The music that is “the food of love” is hot jazz, surrounding the hidden genders and identities that lead to the multitude of romantic entanglements at the center of the story.
The lovelorn Orsino is played with a savoir-faire style – a blending of Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby with saloonkeeper Rick Blaine of Casablanca—by senior Andrew Busenlener. The resistant object of his affection, Olivia, is played with spunky snap by Ursuline Academy senior Reagan Ulrich.
The third angle of the love triangle, Viola (disguised as Cesario), is played with a gamine-like sweetness by Cabrini senior Emily Bennett.
Beyond the love story at the center, it is the raucous comedy that explodes from the stage. Most of that rollicking fun comes from senior Blaise Bonura as a ribald Sir Toby Belch and senior Will Hite as his outrageously funny partner in crime, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Senior Tommy Curry (Fabian) and Ursuline senior Kate Burch (Maria) round out the quartet who set up the gulling of Malvolio.
Proving that some actors are indeed born great, senior John Howell steals the show as Malvolio, Olivia’s puritanical and officious majordomo. With a solidly strong command of the nuances of Shakespeare’s language, Howell captures the complexity of the comedy in Twelfth Night. Some of the show’s heartiest laughs come from his entrance dressed in what he has been led to believe will appeal to his lady, Olivia.
Equally at home with the language, Ellie Simmons, an Ursuline senior, scores as the clown, Feste. She sharply delivers the wittiest barbs of the play, while also bringing a sultry jazz styling to her songs, played as a nightclub chanteuse. Watch for a particularly magical costume change by Simmons late in the play. Seniors Garrin Mesa and Talon Comeaux also share standout moments as the perplexed Sebastian and wily Antonio.
The sets are colorful and detailed, evoking the period well. The costuming is outstanding adding color and depth of texture as well as helping the students find the essence of their characters.
Tackling Shakespeare is no easy task—especially with the Philelectic Society preparing a pair of shows at once. The student performers have learned the importance of not falling into the trap of mere recitation of lyrical lines. For the most part, they convey the meaning and natural sense of speech of the dialogue, while also maintaining the inherent poetry in the language.
It might not be time to break out the king cakes yet, but catch this Twelfth Night, which will be as fleeting as a Carnival parade. The show wraps up this weekend.
Tickets are available now, online.
Show dates and times:
Friday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
In addition to his position win the Theology Department, Ted Mahne is the chief theater critic for The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com.