Inside my head and my imagination, I’m still immersed in the remarkable world of Twelfth Night, as performed by Emory’s Dooley’s Players on opening night, April 6. Directed by a beloved and talented former student, Madison Taylor Borman, and enacted by eleven brilliant actors, it’s the right play, at the right time, in the right place.
Twelfth Night explores the fluidity of language, of gender, of desire, and of identity. The comic genre tries to straighten out the play’s queerness, but Shakespeare—420 years ago!—wouldn’t un-queer the play. So while his Elizabethan audience expected the Orsino-Olivia-Viola love triangle to comfortably resolve into two, heterosexual couples, Shakespeare says: “yeah, no. Too straight.” Thus he introduces Antonio—Antonio who doesn’t need to be in the play, except as Sebastian’s beloved. And he keeps Viola in male attire, even through the marriage scenes at the end. Madison Borman’s original costuming choice works perfectly here, signaling to us that while the seventeenth-century culture may have mandated heterosexual coupledom, humans have always been more fluid.
The bond between Antonio and Sebastian is realistic and powerful, and the actors play it perfectly, with Antonio more committed than Sebastian (who moves on to Olivia with charming joy and wonder). The entire cast plays their maleable bonds beautifully: Olivia and Viola, Viola and Orsino, Malvolio and Olivia, and Toby, Andrew, Maria, and Fabian. Always attuned to the nuances of Shakespeare’s language and the mobile, changable desires amid the cast, the actors’ chemistry and their command of Shakespeare’s language was a thing to behold.
So it’s the right play because it is these actors’ generation who is teaching us to embrace fluidity.
It’s the right time because the play also explores people who are violently separated—by shipwreck, by political division, by grief—and we get to watch them find their paths back to each other. The Emory students who brought this play to life know all about sudden and violent Covid-mandated separations. They know about grief, and loss, and political stress. As do those of us who are watching the play. Sitting next to my students Madison Martin and Madison Martin, who abruptly left Oxford College’s campus during the spring of 2020, I felt so profoundly grateful to have real, physical proximity with them, with the audience, and with the cast. It was as if the play reenacted the disconnection forced on all of us by Covid, and then celebrated how we all found our way back together.
And finally, what better place than the Emory Campus Life Pavilion, where we sat so close to the actors, as twilight turned to night, and the birds, trains, and random strains of background music somehow made the play even more magical. I can’t imagine a better venue for this extraordinary show.
Brava, bravo, and thank you everyone for such a gift—I won’t forget it!
Olivia: Olivia Willingham
Viola: Erin Devine
Maria/Officer: Anna Little
Orsino: Ammar Ul Haq
Sebastian/Servant: Alex Valdivia
Fabian/Captain: Ruby Stillman
Toby: Dean Criser
Antonio/Valentine: Zeke Rezzarday
Malvolio: Alex Banul
Feste: Julia Green
Andrew: Sofia Freedman
Director: Madison Borman
Stage Manager: Ethan Hill
Assistant Stage Manager: Rose Xu
Production Manager: Jake Stohr
Dramaturg: John Cai
Technical Director: Ainsley Powers
Head of Set: Zack Gunter
Head of Sound: Paloma Juarez
Sound Operator: Elijah Robuck
Lighting Designer & Operator: Lonnie Reid
Props Master: Elijah Robuck
Head of Costume: Leah Strickland & Grace Ward
Intimacy Coordinator: Willa Barnett
Fight Scene Choreographer: Ethan Hill
Run Crew: Leah Strickland, Rose Xu & Ethan Hill