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Talking with Twelfth Night: Q&A with the Cast of This Week’s Carleton Players Production

<ong>Sam Braslow on Orsino

What’s your approach to Orsino?
I like to find what I share with the character so I can react organically to their situations. You have to ferret out your psychological similarities. The portrait of Orsino that I’ve built is someone that’s conflicted. The arc that Orsino really undergoes primary relates to his masculinity and sexuality – more so his sexuality. He isn’t able to love a woman until he’s shown how to by a man. That’s kind of the cheesy way of putting it, but that’s the reality of it. He never actually sees Viola as a woman, and that’s significant. The really interesting thing there is that he’s not able to love “him” until it’s socially acceptable. To juxtapose Orsino’s situation with the parallel of that in the play: Antonio is not able to love Sebastian because that socially problematic angle is never reconciled. Yet I’m able to love a man because the man turns out to be a woman. That’s kind of the dissonance that Orsino is fighting through. Olivia is just kind of this idealized – ell, maybe that’s overreading… The fact that he’s so doggedly pursuing her despite her clear non-reciprocation is another big problematic angle of the character.

When do you think he falls in love with Viola?
Act II Scene IV. It’s during the song with Feste.

What happens during that moment?
I’m really reluctant to get Freudian about it but there’s this element of death – and of love and death – that’s brought up (which, if you want to get Freudian, is called thanatos). There’s a brief moment of vulnerability between the two of them where Orsino unconsciously admits the possibility. The moment the song’s over, he immediately snaps out of it and is forced to grapple with the dissonance.

How do you convey that?
That’s the most difficult part of the play. I’ve seen a number of productions that do it different ways. And honestly, the thing productions have kind of settled in on is the slow, getting-closer-to-each-other daze. A blank expression but with clear purpose in your movements.

Why does Shakespeare have Orsino say he’ll only kiss Viola after she’s changed out of her man’s clothes?
I think he’s commenting. This could be me trying to force a contemporary interpretation of it, but one way or another what Shakespeare has done is illustrate a social paradox of the whole thing in which a man can love a man only when he’s a woman. When you reduce it like that, you lose a lot of the nuggets, but that’s essential what’s happening in my opinion. I don’t think that’s conservative so much as accurate. If you want to get biographical: he wrote many sonnets to man. So, you can argue that it was something that he dealt with in his life…

Kristen Nassar on Viola

What’s the biggest realization you’ve had about Viola as you learned the part?
When we started out, it just seemed like a Shakespearean trick to have her dress up as a guy and go out as a man. But, I’ve started to figure out that the way Viola is written, it’s not just a trick that comes out of nowhere. She’s got this mannishness about her that makes it come – not easy – but easier than it would if she were anyone else. She is able to assert herself in this world that doesn’t expect her to be assertive.

What do you make of the way Viola copes with the news of her brother’s death?
Viola’s just in this universe where you can’t get by as a woman. She’s self-sufficient. One of the general lessons of the play is that people have to keep their shit together, because if you don’t, you’re just going to be all over the place like Orsino and Olivia. They’re just emotional wrecks. Viola always has that underlying sadness that her brother is gone – you can see it peak through the text, yet her emotions don’t rule her. The comparison of Olivia mourning her brother and Viola hers is really interesting.

Do you think Orsino is a good match for Viola?
One of the struggles I’m currently trying to overcome is why in the world she’d love Orsino. There’s this moment the first time Olivia and Viola meet, when Olivia’s talking about all of the good things in Orsino. It’s important to look at that. All we see of Orsino is that he’s emotional, not genuine at all, and gets really violent really easily. But there’s another part of him that we don’t see where he’s noble, loyal, generally a great guy. I’m just going to assume that Viola has seen this in what we don’t see on stage.   

Does Orsino love Viola-the-man, Viola-the-woman, or what?
The scene we were just working on is the “Gay Panic Scene” when Feste is singing and Orsino and Viola are getting all canoodlely. Orsino is like “what the heck is happening – this is a guy!” I think that the way love is portrayed in this play is that is does really defy the way gender is performed because he does fall in love with her, even though he’ll deny it with all his soul. He still doesn’t want to be in love with a boy. That’s a limit of masculinity and machoness to not want to acknowledge anything that might be gay-ish. But, I think it’s still a genuine love. It’s not a false love.   

What’s the most interesting thing to you about this play?
I guess the way that gender is played with. You find it in every scene, even those with the lighter people; they have their own version of it (though it may be less obvious there).  That’s one of the reason I wanted to do this play, because I think it’s a question that’s extremely relevant now and surprising that it was relevant at the time. It’s interesting exploring the ways that you might think Shakespeare has a progressive view but also a really conservative one.

Hannah Neville on Olivia

What’s the biggest thing you’ve had to think about when playing Olivia?
Trying to figure out her train of thought. She has these huge, abrupt mood changes, and so that was really fun to piece together and I’m still trying to figure it out. I guess what changed the most was when most people first read Olivia she can seem kind of selfish (and to an extent she is). But I think the more that I thought about the fact that her father and brother both died and she has this Duke Orsino (and proabaly many other suitors as well) who just wont leave her alone, I can totally see why she might take on this selfish personality. But I do think that she is incredibly dramatic, and that’s part of the fun of playing her.

She ends up marrying someone she’s barely met. Isn’t there something superficial about her relationship with Sebastion?
I do think there is some superficiality to it, but I think Sebastion has proved himself to be a man of action, as well as someone who is willing to let her take the lead. I think that’s what she’s looking for. Her moods are so changing that there’s also a possibility of her driving him crazy, or it could just be a fun ride for the rest of their lives.

What do you make of the battle between Feste and Malvolio regarding Olivia.
I think Feste has been with her the longest, and she has the clearest memories of him; for the most of it, she favors Feste. She values Malvolio for his ability to run the house and cator to his sad moods, but I think in the end Feste is the one she’d champion. But at the very end I think she’s disappointed with both Malvolio’s so focused on upward mobility that it blinds him to everything else. The cruelty of Feste, Toby, Andrew and Maria towards Malvolio is also something many people will find issue with. 

Professor Roger Bechtel on Malvolio

What’s the most interseing aspect of the play to you?
It’s sort of weird talking about this as an actor because I usually direct, but what I find so interesting about the journey of this play is that it really geos from death to life  and it’s really Olivia’s journey. It’s other characters’ journies too (for example, Viola goes through a metaphorical death through masking). But when we start with Olivia it makes sense that she’s the only character in the play sympathetic to Malvolio because they both have this seriousness about them. And even Malvolio starts to go from death to life. He has a real chance, he thinks, at love.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had about learning the part of Malvolio?
My goal from the beginning was to make him not just a clown becasue I think therre is a depth to Malvolio that actors often miss because they invest in nothing but the humor. The biggest thing for me was getting my second costume, because it’s so outrageously over the top. I didn’t get it until last week, and suddenly the scene had to be different. And so that costume was the most challenging thing.

Does Shakespeare at all redeem Malvolio’s puritanism?
Malvolio ceratinly is a Puritan, and you could write a lot about that as a scholar, but as an actor you have to really get at what drives a character. For me, it’s not the Puritanism that drives Malvolio, it’s the class. If you’re born to a lower class and you strive to an upper class, you have to do something to your identity. You have to create an identity that somehow allows you to respect yourself. And so I think for Malvolio that’s what you grab on to. He can’t be of the upper class, but he can certainly aspire to it in his behavior and his morality. But what drives him more than anything else is that he’s truly in love with Olivia. Part of it is class striving, but I also think he actually loves her. For me the Puritanism is much lesss important.

What do you make of Feste’s motives?
What I think is interesting about Feste and Malvolio is that they really are antipodes. The thing about those too is that they both aren’t upper class. Feste needs a job, he needs money, and he needs it from the upper class. So both Feste and Malvolio make their way through life vis-a-vis that class. I think Feste threatens Malvolio. You see it early in the play: there’s a contest between Feste and Malvolio and Olivia is the judge They both have the same goal, but go about it in opposite ways.

Ethan Ramsay on Sir Andrew Aguecheck

What’s been your process figuring out how to play Andrew?
The first thing the director told me he was very dumb.  But all he wants is to be loved, and although he can’t find romantic love, he still has Sir Toby’s friendship-love. Even that in the end is not true, and he’s left alone. He’s crippled after that. I realized that there’s more to him than just being comedic relief. This character just wants to have a friend. I think that what makes the best comedies is that they have drama. The ending of my story is bad but there are even more stories in the play that are even worse. Comedies can make people feel happy, but should also have the audience thinking afterwards, because life isn’t just laughs and giggles.

Who aside from Andrew interests you most in the play?
I’m always on stage with Sir Toby. Unlike me who can only try to think, Toby actually is smart.  I found him really interesting because he’s always drunk. Why does he keep on drinking when he knows it’s just going to lead him down the wrong road and hurt his relationships with the people who really care for him?

Grace Black on Maria

What is the biggest thing you had to figure out about Maria?
What she actually wants underneath the sass. She’s very mischeivious. She’s kind of a bully. So just sort of learning that she’s a little vicious but she really just wants to be with the person she loves.

What does she see in Toby?
He’s a knight, for one thing, and also I think they have a similar mindset to one another, which is sort of … mean. But they’re also very playful with each other.

Do you think their marriage will be stable?
No, because Toby’s an alcoholic, so… I think they’re going to be good together, but I think Maria will have her hands full.

Aside from Maria, who else in the play interests you the most?
I think one of the most interesting things is Feste. He’s a really complicated character, though it doesn’t always come off that way. He’s very different in his one-on-one relationships than in a group setting. 

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