Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Curio Theatre

In Shakespeare’s day, people would describe going to “hear” a play, a sign of the primacy of spoken language in the Elizabethan perception of the world. However, the Curio Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night was certainly a play to be seen.

Set. The theater itself is in a huge, beautiful old church. There’s about a hundred seats curtained off into a black box theater with a massive pipe organ as backdrop. The marble columns and clever use of scaffolding, including a fireman-style pole, created a lovely vertical thrust in a visually striking multi-level set.

Costumes. Of course, the defining visual mark of this production were the striking steampunk costumes. They provided visual interest throughout, and reinforce the martial orientation of the male characters. Goggles, a gilded gear-encrusted headdress, and glowing brooches constantly remind the audience to let go their own inhibitions and embrace the madness of the plays heart. Best of all was the clock face set into Malvolio’s top hat.

Performances. Good performances throughout. Viola was charismatic and competent, even when caught up in forces beyond her control (such as her love for Orsino). Her love was a bit of a stretch to believe as an early scene with Orsino describing his love of Olivia was cut. Olivia’s transition from cold and aloof to smitten was a joy to watch.

The stage business was particularly strong in the scenes of Malvolio reading the forged letter, and the cringing duel of Viola and Sir Andrew. My sides ached from laughter.

What was new? In the previous productions of Twelfth Night I’ve seen, Malvolio has been cast as one of the actors with the most stage presence. His inflated sense of self-importance, and facility for self-deception overshadow the callous, manipulative trick that Sir Toby and company play on him. In the other productions, Malvolio is a pompous, petty tyrant whose own ambitions lead to his humbling. In this production, the actor playing Sir Toby had more stage presence. Not that Malvolio’s actor gave a poor performance, it’s just that Sir Toby’s actor’s performance was so big that–even when he didn’t have any lines–the audience’s attention was drawn to him.

This mixture of talents threw the heart of the play into stark relief for me. The alternate title of Twelfth Night is What You Will, alluding to the antic chaos of the Elizabethan holiday. I’ve already seen how thoroughly this play depicts the faces of frivolity and merry-making, but I hadn’t quite perceived the depth of amorality at the root of it. Sir Toby the constant reveler has Malvolio locked up for the sake of a joke. Sir Toby the smiling back-slapper does his level best to get his buddy Sir Andrew slaughtered to avoid paying off his drinking debts. Sir Toby will let nothing stand in the way of a good time, and that makes him a frightening specter indeed.

I’m so glad I got the chance to see this production. If you have the opportunity, check it out.

Happy Bard’s Day!

Today is traditionally observed as the date when William Shakespeare was born, and died. We’ll be celebrating the occasion fittingly by attending a performance of Twelfth Night at the Curio Theatre in Philadelphia. It’s a steampunk-themed interpretation, and pre-production photos are available here.

What are you doing to observe Bard’s Day, or World Book and Copyright Day, or St. George’s Day, or, y’know, Friday?

Ten Favorite Mechanics #4 – Vision Cards from Everway

A blast from the bygone era of 1995, here’s the oldest game to make my list.

#4 – Vision Cards from Everway

How do you make a character in Everway? Easy. Look at a bunch of beautiful fantasy art, pick a few images that inspire you, and tell a story about them. There’s a handful of numbers on the character sheet and a tarot-like fortune deck, but the vision cards are where the magic lies in Everway. I’ve heard more attention-grabbing, vivid characters made in the first few minutes of Everway games than I have anywhere else. Why?

  • They’re simple. Nearly anyone who’s imaginative enough to play RPGs can look at a group of pictures and make up a story about them.
  • They engage different parts of the brain than words do. Pictures are perceived information. Words are received information–they need to be decoded to be understood. Pictures can set off players’ imaginations instantly.
  • They’re fast. There’s no fighting over access to books, or waiting for the GM to explain character options one at a time. Everyone grabs a bunch of cards and looks through them simultaneously. Plus, the selection of cards conveys a wealth of information about setting, color, and tone instantly.
  • They encourage good communication. After you’ve chosen your cards, you explain what they say about your character to the rest of the players. This sets an immediate precedent for vividly imagining the game world, describing it to the group, and the other players paying attention to your contributions.
  • They short-circuit shyness and “writer’s block.” For shy players, the “show and tell” aspect of physically handling the cards allows them to be imaginative, while talking about something other than themselves. They can use the cards as a focus for the conversation. Plus, the rich imagery of the cards provide input to the imagination, priming the pump to get people started on making stuff up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone draw a blank when making Everway characters.
  • They encourage group involvement. Other players will ask clarifying questions about the details of the pictures. “Does your sword look like this one, or are you just saying your character is a warrior?” Even better is when more than one player chooses the same card. We know instantly that their characters are connected. Explaining how sets off another burst of creativity!

Up next: …but if I win, your girlfriend marries the nefarious Dr. Venom!