Having been in Chicago for a medical meeting (yes, I do have a life outside of Shakespeare), I took the opportunity to attend a performance of Twelfth Night (well, maybe I DON'T have a life outside of Shakespeare) at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. It was wonderful! The CST (www.chicagoshakes.com) constantly amazes me with the quality of their productions (I have blogged about them before). I only wish that they would be a reperatory theater instead of a traditional one with one show at a time, so I could go and see multiple plays like I can at Stratford or Ashland. Well, maybe I can use it as an excuse to get away to Chicago more often.
Anyway, I will try to describe the performance. The stage there at CST is a modified thrust one, like the one at the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, ON (only not as long). For this performance the part of the stage that "thrusts" out into the audience (surrounded on three sides) was turned into an actual swimming pool containing various levels from about six inches deep around the edges to over 5 feet deep in the center section. the actors delivered much of their lines while walking around the edges of the pool (in the water) or while swimming in the deep part. Other portions of the action took place on the "dry land" at the back of the stage (where there were many levels of decking built. You can see pictures of how all of this looked and see a video (sped up) of how the usual stage at CST was converted into the pool by going to
www.chicagoshakes.com/main.taf?p=2,31,1,22 (a page that seems not to be accessible directly from the main CST web site).
Throughout the play, just about every actor ended up submerged in the deep part of the pool, whether by being pushed (in a fight), falling in (while drunk), or jumping in (for various reasons). Whenever this happened I (being seated in the first row at the side of the stage/pool) was able to have a little "audience participation" by being splashed (but only a few drops).
All of the actors were wearing beautiful Elizabethan era costumes (informally known as "pumpkin pants") and I was constantly amazed at how these costumes were being soaked (at the start of the play, the actors would remove their outer garments as if they were going for a swim, which of course they were, but later on they would be in the pool in full dress).
Part of the fun of watching the play (aside from the extremely good quality of the cast) was waiting to see who would end up in the pool next and how. Of course, the one person everyone in the audience was waiting to see get dunked was Malvolio who, in his austere Puritan dress (shades of Christopher Hatton?) was the only actor who wasn't barefoot thorought the production (well Feste did wear shoes for a short time while pretending to be Sir Topas the priest). Sadly (maybe) Malvolio never did get into the pool, although he was splashed a little, even when he lost his outer clothes and shoes when everyone thought he was mad.
An added bonus was right at the end when Feste sang his melancholy song containing the refrain "the rain it raineth every day". Seeing him using a tattered umbrella to try to stop real rain (coming down from the top of the theater) made the whole thing very poignant.
All in all, one of the best productions of Twelfth Night I have ever seen.
The production runs until June 7 so there is still time to go see it. In fact, I think I will be proposing another Oberon road trip at our next meeting.