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Twelfth Night

Set Notes

The world of this production is one where nothing is exactly what it seems to be.  It is a play where the opposition of male and female, high- and lowbrow, insider and other, mourning and partying, excess and Puritanism, is obvious on every page of the text; it is set in prohibition-era Chicago which heightens that opposition further.

This turbulent era is the perfect backdrop for the comedic turmoil of Twelfth Night.  In this play, Shakespeare exposes hypocrisy with humor.  We Americans know that prohibition intensified hypocrisy and double dealing.  This setting helps us get the joke.  A cascade of illegal alcohol, dumped from a warehouse window by the ATF agents (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), symbolically creates the storm that shipwrecks Viola.  The "warning label" on Olivia's grape concentrate product brazenly advertises, "after dissolving the brick, sugar and yeast packet in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug in a dark cabinet for twenty days: and illegal beverage will result."  Under the pretense of an expensive mourning dress a hidden flask is "unveiled."

There's an underside to everything (including, of course, alcohol).  Mirroring this, the set pieces are literally two-faced.  Insistently, the set reveals its more sordid aspects.  Respectable public spaces that begin facing forward are rotated to reveal seedier locales.

Olivia's mourning, carried out in her genteel Art Deco home seems duplicitous with the constant raucous partying in her clandestine speakeasy.  There characters play elaborate jokes on each other and get drunken kicks throwing darts at a prohibition-endorsing poster featuring an alcoholic's destitute wife and children.  Orsino's swanky public lifestyle is, like Olivia's, funded illegally.  A luxurious bath in the ultimate bachelor pad, rotating, transforms into a Lake Michigan crossing rumrunner bringing booze from Ontario.  Later it is used as a bathtub still, augmenting Orsino's smuggled stash.  Connecting the businesses of the two wealthy profiteers is a general warehouse space filled with haphazardly concealed contraband.  Even the speakeasy, locked tight, confines humorless Malvolio--the only one whose motives and ambitions are as obvious as his yellow argyle socks.

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