March 22 2018 10:15 AM

An old Shakespeare standard


It’s not their fault there were more people onstage than in the audience. “Twelfth Night” debuted when there was a glut of play openings. Michigan State University students were on break. Basket ball tournaments were on TV. Besides, it was a William Shakespeare play.

Most of us endured the Bard in middle and high school. I was one of those English teachers who required my students years ago to dive into centuries-old scripts with the hopes they would enjoy the plunge.

In 2018, a wish to attract crowds to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” seems about as likely as hoping for eager swarms of swimming cats. Alas, the play written around 1600 can be confusing with complex verbiage and a complicated plot full of mistaken identities.

The East Lansing Community Theatre version — true to the original dialogue — is even more puzzling with modern outfits, furniture, and characters that are supposed to be look-alikes that show no resemblance. Viola, played by Ann Marie Foley, who barely disguises herself as the male, Cesario, looks nothing like Mark Polzin’s Sebastian. Kameron Going’s switches between Malvolio and Antonio are also awkward because he dresses and looks like both characters.

It’s notable that Going took on the additional role of Malvolio on short notice when a cast member dropped out. Like the entire cast, he sails through complicated language and Shakespeare’s wordplay without any significant stumbles. The 13 ELCT thespians directed by Mike Stewart deserve kudos for smooth and enthuse-astic deliveries.

Sure, there were some accent deviations, curtain issues and first night flaws, but each actor’s performance shows determination and competence. Iris Raine Paul stands out as a rude Lady Olivia. Tim Lewis as a captain, priest and servant, brings a clear voice to each part. Holy Engler is a heady Maria and Steve Ledyard is convincing as the drunk, Sir Toby Belch.

And yes, there is belching, farting, crude gags, and sexual innuendos in the over twohour play. After all, “Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Its rudimentary humor was outrageous in his day. I know that from my English teachers.

“Twelfth Night” Thursday, March 22, 7 p.m. Friday, March 23, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 24, 7 p.m. East Lansing Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing https://www.cityofeastlansing.com/1819/ East-Lansing-Community-Theatre