What Makes Shakespeare So Timeless?

Quote of the Day: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare

Last night, I saw a wonderful production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by Lawn Chair Theater at Lyon Park. What is it about the immortal Bard of Avon’s plays that make them so universal? What is it about his centuries-old stories that still resonate with audiences today? Why do modern artists still find inspiration in his comedies and tragedies?

The language of his scripts is beautiful and poetic, of course, but the plots and characters of his tales are what continue to stand the test of time. William Shakespeare managed to write about timeless themes about the human condition that still ring true: love, revenge, power-lust, war. Even when basing his plays on existing stories, myths, or legends, Shakespeare was able to find those archetypes that people of every walk of life could recognize: romance, familial bonds, mistaken identity, ambition, anger, and so much more.

The production of Twelfth Night that I saw was intended to be performed outdoors, but threat of rain forced it to be moved inside in Lyon Park’s Girl Scout House. The crew did an amazing job of setting up an intimate performance space indoors that worked very well. There’s something about the plays of Shakespeare that work perfectly in outdoor settings. The famous Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s time was an open-air space. The Lawn Chair Theater group have been bringing outdoor performances to the Park for the past four summers. Previous shows have included A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Shakespeare’s plays can be a challenge for some adult professionals who struggle with his language and verse, so it’s high praise that the mostly young cast of Lawn Chair Theater does such an incredible job of grasping and conveying all of the Bard’s brilliant words without losing any of the subtext.

Twelfth Night is a play that I’ve seen performed by various companies numerous times over the last few years alone. The mistaken identity plot point that is pivotal to the story has always been problematic for me, often failing to sustain my suspension of disbelief, but the Lawn Chair Theater version was one of the best interpretations I've witnessed.

Elinor Reina and Ben Hirsch do a fine job as twin siblings Viola and Sebastian. Simon Edmonds-Langham captures all the humor and desperation of Malvolio, a character that I always loved to hate while secretly sympathizing with his plight.

Music is a vital component of this play, and Sea McHale does a great job as Feste, singing some great ditties under the music direction of Josh Carriero. (My favorite was a reworking of Taylor Swift’s song, “Love Story.”)

Lawrence J. Reina brought the boisterous Sir Toby Belch alive and David Muto complemented him well with a side-splitting performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Lisbeth Castelli was captivating as Maria, and Alex Castleton showed nice range and confidence as Orsino. Emily Gordon Seif conveyed Olivia’s grief and loneliness better than many other actresses I have seen in the role.

Congratulations to the cast for making every role memorable – Michelle Altmann as the Captain, Olivia Green as Valentina, Nathaly Orellana as Antonia, Matt Moseman as Fabian, and Roxie Pell as the Priest.

The director, Tal Aviezer, deserves a lot of the credit, in addition to the terrific cast. He’s a good friend of mine who has produced and directed a string of incredible Shakespeare productions through his Red Monkey Theater Group and other troupes. He has a lot of talent for drawing out the best in his actors and for finding ways to contemporize the stories in a timeless way. (Nice touch with the light sabers! Whether or not they'd work in my idea for a Jedi version of Macbeth is a different story.)

Special thanks to the Port Chester Council for the Arts and the Port Chester Recreation Department for continuing to bring free shows to the community. There are still two more performances of Twelfth Night at Lyon Park for those of you who can make it. Summer wouldn’t be complete without some Shakespeare in the park!


Peter Green said…

Thanks for coming to the show, and for your kind words.

Peter Green