The following appears as an insert in the Twelfth Night program.
I find Shakespeare craves a kind of context, even if that is to place it in a quasi-modern alternate reality as I did with Macbeth. A world of no particular place and time where guns and Doc Martens co-existed with knife fights and dark magic.
To do this so is always does something to the play. I settled on Twelfth Night as something I wanted to do before coming to where I wanted to place it. As I read over and again some things stuck out to me about Shakespeare’s text: twins from a faraway land shipwrecked in a strange land by a brutal storm, sea captains and pirates, puritans and drunks, midnight revels, so much music, passion and poetry, a great mixture of classes and fragments of different languages. This made me think “Why not Ybor? Why not during Prohibition?” As I began to do some research it all just sort of fell together and made ohsomuch sense.
In Sep. of 1926 a hurricane blasted Miami, cut across the state into the gulf and then went up again into the panhandle. Tampa was largely spared. Ybor fared better than a lot of the state. This could be the storm that sends Viola and Sebastian, in our world coming up from Cuba, to the City City a place where they might have some knowledge of. Orsino and his court become bootleggers, Antonio an opportunistic guy trying to get by, Olivia’s house old money from the settlement of the area, Sir Andrew a bit of a Yankee fop, Feste a drifter making a buck off of his wits and tricks.
Did we attempt to beat all of this with a sledgehammer? Certain not. But the choice subtly colors everything we did in this process, from finding authentic recordings of bands playing the Cuban Club and pieces collected by the Works Progress Administration on the streets of Ybor to how the sets and costumes look. It’s fun to think about, and to me it makes the story somewhat more familiar, more relevant even if set 90 years ago. It just feels right. I hope that you enjoy the show!
A Short Synopsis (SPOILERS!)
Orsino, Duke of lllyria, is in love with his neighbor, the Countess Olivia. She has sworn to avoid men’s company for 7 years while she mourns the death of her brother, so rejects him. Nearby a boat Captain arrives with a young woman, Viola, who has survived a shipwreck in a storm at sea. Viola mourns the loss of her twin brother and decides to dress as a boy to get work as a page to Duke Orsino.
Despite his rejection Orsino sends his new page Cesario (Viola in disguise) to woo Olivia on his behalf. Viola goes unwillingly as she has already fallen in love at first sight with the duke. Olivia is attracted by the ‘boy’ and she sends her steward, Malvolio, after him with a ring.
Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby, her servant Maria, and Sir Toby’s friend, Sir Andrew, who is also hoping to woo Olivia and is being led on by Sir Toby, who is trying to fleece him of his money, all plot to expose the self-love of Malvolio. By means of a false letter they trick him into thinking Olivia loves him. Malvolio appears in yellow stockings and cross-garters, smiling as the letter told him to do. Unaware of the trick the Countess is horrified and has Malvolio shut up in the dark as a madman.
Meanwhile Viola’s twin brother Sebastian, who has also survived the wreck, comes to Illyria. His sea-captain friend, Antonio, is a wanted man for piracy against Orsino. The resemblance between Cesario and Sebastian leads the jealous Sir Andrew to challenge Cesario to a duel. Antonio intervenes to defend Cesario whom he thinks is Sebastian, and is arrested. Olivia has in the meantime met and become betrothed to Sebastian.
Cesario is accused of deserting both Antonio and Olivia when the real Sebastian arrives to apologize for fighting Sir Toby. Seeing both twins together, all is revealed. Orsino’s fool, Feste, brings a letter from Malvolio and on his release the conspirators confess to having written the false letter. Malvolio departs promising revenge. Maria and Sir Toby have married in celebration of the success of their device against the steward.
The play ends as Orsino, realizing his own attraction to Cesario, promises they too will be wed.