Quantum Theatre’s Twelfth Night | Program Notes
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Quantum Theatre’s Twelfth Night

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Probably the most intriguing anachronism in the delightful production of this Shakespeare comedy is the prop lists' inclusion of American Express cards.

Whenever the script calls for "gold" or a "purse" to be handed over, out comes the plastic.

It's not the anachronism itself that's interesting. Shakespeare himself put a mechanical clock in Julius Caeser, for crying out loud. And adaptations of his plays are famously reworked, often set in historical (or ahistorical) settings pretty remote from anything dreamt of in the Bard's Elizabethan dramturgy.

This production, however, isn't really like that. True, the costumes, by Robert C.T. Steele and Tyler Holland, are an entirely whimsical mix of everything from ruffed collars to corsets, hoodies and jeggings. Yet though the show's set in no explicit time period, it still takes place in an Illyria where no one has phones; characters are tricked by forged hand-written letters; and the copious music is played mostly on an acoustic stringed instrument (in this case, a ukulele, but still). 

The credit cards might reference the fact that several of the characters, including shipwrecked, each-presumed-dead-by-the-other twins Viola and Sebastian, are both travelers -- strangers in a strange land, of the sort who use plastic in lieu of cash. But native Illyrians Orsino and Olivia wield AmEx too.

Or maybe the cards are just a little joke by director Karla Boos, something to go along with the explicitly modern, almost featureless stucco-and-glass exterior of the vacant West Penn Research Facility building (in Bloomfield) in whose outdoor entry courtyard the play is staged.

But I'll bet it's that plus a commentary on the fact that the characters in this comedy are always spending money. Every other scene, it seems. I can't remember another Shakespeare play where the act of spending (as opposed to the more philosophical consideration of greed, as in Lear) is so commonplace. And certainly not one of the comedies.

If that's the reason for the plastic, it's a good call. There's no missing some of Twelfth Night's subtext -- the homoeroticism, for instance, in a play where the central character, Viola, is a young woman who, dressed as a young man, falls in love with the older man she's serving, who in turn has some erotic interest in the young man he believes his servant to be; even as Viola is likewise beloved by a woman who thinks she's a young man. But I might have missed the prevalence of financial interactions entirely if not for the underlining effect of those out-of-place credit cards.

Twelfth Night continues with three more performances through Sun., Aug. 28. www.quantumtheatre.com

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