Student actors doing Shakespeare in an on- campus production screams boring. The mere mention conjures visions of amateurs, missed cues and awkward pauses.
Oh ye of little faith, the student-production of Shakespeare’s classic “Twelfth Night,” presented by the Theatre Department at CSUN, is hilarious and showcases the talents of actors destined to be discovered.
A sunken vessel separated Viola (Kristen Egermeier) and Sebastian (Jim Miller). Twins, each assumes their sibling lives no more. Both wander aimlessly through life before they land in the court of Orsino (Richard Ortiz) Duke of Illyria. Viola dawns a disguise and becomes a man known as Cesario to be closer to the Duke, who she loves. Cesario is sent by the Duke to woo Olivia (Ellen Wilcox) a countess Orsino desires. The plot thickens when Olivia falls in love with Cesario and rejects the Duke.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them,” this line from the play provides one of many comedic moments and accurately describes the performances on display.
From the moment Matt Hurley, playing the part of Feste the court jester, hits the stage there is no question that he was born to play this part. Rye, rambunctious, with a total disregard for authority, Feste is self-serving and sarcastic. Hurley as Feste is fantastic, and by watching him, it is clear that sarcasm suits Hurley.
Initially, Egermeier as Viola is not particularly engaging. However, when the woman plays the part of a man, Cesario, she is cute when uncomfortable.
“Nothing can come between me and the full prospect of my hope,” proclaims Olivia as she pursues Cesario.
Each time Olivia makes advances on Egermeier as Cesario the actress conveys volumes with her eyes and physical reactions. Egermeier looks as if she wants to jump out of her skin at Olivia’s slightest touch or slyest turn of the tongue. By the play’s end, when Viola is unmasked, Egermeier has the audience invested in her fate.
Another actor who holds the attention of patrons with his performance is Francisco Hernandez. As Malvolio, a steward in Olivia’s house, Hernandez is pompous and precious at the same time.
When playing the nemesis he is arrogant and easy to dislike, but as the wrongly imprisoned Hernandez manages to make Mavolio seem vulnerable. In one of the play’s final scenes, when Mavolio learns he was jailed because people plotted against him, Hernandez shows the pain of betrayal on his face and in his posture.
Like Hernandez, Jon Zuber and Ari Radousky use physicality to enhance their performances. Playing the parts of Sir Toby Blech and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, respectively, each man uses physical comedy to perfection as they portray two party boys with an ax to grind against Mavolio. As Stumbling, bumbling drunkards, the two men lift every scene they share.
Zuber as Sir Toby is that cunning party boy who knows how to start trouble for his friends. Sir Andrew (Radousky) is akin to the cowardly lion in the “Wizard of Oz.” Brave when he thinks others are scared and terrified most of the time, Sir Andrew is a patsy played perfectly innocent by Radousky.
“It is like Jerry Springer with smart people,” said Erika Ishii, 18, about “Twelfth Night.” Ishii, a freshman, said that she was really impressed by the performances given.
However, it is not just the acting that makes this play special it is the way Shakespeare’s words are expressed and the movement of the cast on the stage.
Blocking, the way in which actors move, helps the audience make sense of scenes. The emphasis on certain words or phrases in dialogue that can only be described as complex is essential to the success of scenes.
Director Melissa Chalsma has given her actors blocking that keeps each scene lively. The use of voice inflection by the actors at the appropriate times gives the audience enough cues in case they do not catch every word.
“I get it,” said Kimmie Agin who attended the play with friends.
Agin, 20, theater major, said that she usually steers clear of Shakespeare’s plays because she does not know what is happening half the time. However, Agin credits Chalsma for crafting a story she could follow. “I understand it,” added Agin.
“Twelfth Night” is that rare student production worth seeing.
Fresh and funny with breakout characters a line from the production is the only way to express the play in words, “it is so saucy.”
Darren Dickerson can be reached at email@example.com.