EVANSTON — The Evanston High School Drama Devils advanced acting classes returned to the stage for the first time this school year with a performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” on Nov. 16 and 17 in the EHS auditorium. Cast and crew decided to set the Bard’s classic comedy in the 1950s in Illyria, Iowa. The dialogue, however, remained intact.
As anyone familiar with the story knows, “Twelfth Night” features a shipwreck, the separation of twin siblings — both of whom believe the other is dead, the twin Viola disguising herself as man, mistaken identity and love triangles, rival gangs, duels, vengeful plots and more. The tale brought to life by the EHS players kept the heart of the story but changed the shipwreck to a train crash and included costumes and music from the 1950s.
In the Drama Devils’ telling, twins Sebastian and Viola are separated after a train crash, each believing the other has perished. Viola decides to disguise herself as a man known as Cesario so she can enlist into the service of prominent gang leader Orsino. She, of course, falls in love with him; however, Orsino is in love with Olivia, the woman who lives across the street, and he sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf.
As with all things Shakespeare, things are seldom simple or what they seem, and Olivia, predictably, spurns Orsino and instead declares her love for Cesario, the woman in disguise. In the meantime, Viola’s brother Sebastian has been living in the nearby city of Messaline, after sustaining injuries in the train crash and being cared for by Antonia, a member of a rival gang to Orsino’s.
When Sebastian and Antonia travel to Illyria, confusion reigns as Viola (as Cesario) is challenged to a duel and Antonia, believing Cesario to be Sebastian, comes to his (her) aid and is arrested. Meanwhile, the real Sebastian runs into Olivia, who believes him to be Cesario and declares her love for him, which Sebastian is all too happy to accept and the two are married the next day.
Throughout all of this, friends and family members of Olivia torment her poor steward Malvolio as payback for his breaking up their partying. Eventually, their revenge plot results in Malvolio being locked away as a raving lunatic.
Ultimately, all is revealed when Viola (Cesario) and Sebastian finally run into one another and share a joyous reunion. Olivia discovers she actually married Sebastian and not Cesario and, after revealing herself to be a woman, Orsino decides he’s not in love with Olivia after all and instead asks for Viola’s hand.
The production was presented as a reader’s theater of sorts, as the players utilized their scripts. However, unlike a true reader’s theater, the technical crew had still constructed sets and the show was presented with costumes, makeup, props, lighting and sound.
The production was directed by EHS Theater Director Erin Russell and featured different casts on each night from the two different advanced acting classes. Despite the famously difficult Shakespearean dialogue, the young cast handled it well and were obviously having fun bringing to life the mixed-up tale.
Although the cast went without masks while on stage, COVID-19 precautions and masking were in place backstage and for all audience members, who were masked and separated from other groups while seated.
It’s difficult at this point to predict what will happen with the pandemic and future health orders; however, the Drama Devils’ future schedule tentatively includes a State Drama Showcase at 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 and 2, the Holiday Channel Christmas Movie Wonderthon Dec. 7-10, Death by Dessert dinner theater Jan. 27-30 and Feb. 3-6, and the spring musical May 6-8.
The reigning state champion Drama Devils will be competing in the State Thespian Festival virtually this year throughout the month of December, with a virtual awards ceremony scheduled for Jan. 16, 2021.