June 8, 2023
by Co-Artistic Director Morgan Green
As I reflect on my lead year as Co-Artistic Director at the Wilma, I find myself wondering…why do we return to Shakespeare over and over? After a season full of experimental new work, solo performance, and world premieres, one could argue it’s out of place. After watching Twelfth Night, which opens tonight, it feels clear that a rousing classic can be just as spiritually fulfilling and important as the writing of living playwrights responding to the present moment.
We theater-goers are complicated beings. We hunger for many different types of theater, to feed the soul, satisfy the heart, and challenge the mind. Shakespeare is, for many of us, familiar. Like returning to a favorite book or movie, it provides comfort. We recognize the famous lines. We enjoy the structure, feeling the chaos accumulate, while knowing all along the destination is a satisfying resolution. We take comfort in this familiarity, and joy in the twists and turns of the plot.
In Twelfth Night, many of the characters are in mourning for something or someone and this is what motivates their actions. Grief is a fragile state, but it is also open and full of possibility. We are never more present to the moment than immediately after losing someone we love, which can be terribly painful but also, clarifying. When we watch Twelfth Night, we recognize the state the characters are in and we can connect. And this, in a way, is astounding. A 400-year-old rendition of the trials of the human condition still resonates today. Though so much has changed in the world, the experiences of longing, unrequited love, and multiplicity of identity remain.
In Co-Artistic Director Yury Urnov’s clown-forward rendition, you will belly laugh at the physical comedy and snort at the site gags. Amidst the beach-tastic costumes and gimmicks, the poetry can knock you out unexpectedly. Yury chose this play for this moment because it is enjoyable, and because he felt we might need some levity right now. We return to Shakespeare because it is pleasurable and because it leaves space for us to play.
In this version of Twelfth Night, local maverick MK Tuomanen plays both the roles of Sebastian and Viola, aptly declaring: I am not what I am. Viola plays with the layers of their persona. Their exterior appearance deceives others and perhaps even at times, themselves. While queering the already queer tenets of this Shakespearean narrative, MK in both roles physicalizes the multiplicity of self. The conflicting inner tensions we all may experience in one way or another, as our behavior changes to match our surroundings and our company and our constantly evolving sense of self, is highlighted in these twins of Twelfth Night.
We return to Shakespeare because it is pleasurable and because it leaves space for us to raise age-old questions about the human experience. We are not here to celebrate the genius of a dead white man, but to celebrate and enjoy theater that delves deep, that makes us feel alive, and that satisfies our complicated souls. Please come join us for the final show of Wilma’s 22-23 season and enjoy our queer, clowny, and beachy rendition of Twelfth Night.