Love and gender take center stage in ‘Twelfth Night’

DSCN5508Cil Stengel directs Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” opening May 17 in the Rogue Performance Hall at Rogue Community College in Medford.

Stengel has assembled a stellar production team including composer Sue Carney, choreographer Suzanne Seiber, acting coach Eileen DeSandre, and costumes by Emily Ehrlich Inget.

I met with Stengel and her Malvolio, Marshal Gluskin, at Rogue Valley Roasting Company in Ashland.

CS: The resurgence of theater is happening at RCC. We now have a great black box theater. The cast is made of mostly students and about 20 percent community members.

EH: Did you do anything special at tryouts?

CS: We started all together with some ensemble work, just so that I could see people — how they moved, how they worked together, and how they fed off of each other. I also had them play animals to see how free people are in their bodies, and what they can express.

EH: What is “Twelfth Night” about?

CS: It’s a play about love, gender and misidentification. Gender and same-sex desire is in the script, written 400 years ago, issues that are very much in the forefront today.

EH: How do you direct a woman to play a man?

CS: Movement is the key. A man can move freer in the world, it is his playground. A woman would be conscious of other people’s space and be ready to accommodate whatever needs to happen. A man can take space, where a woman wouldn’t. A man would be entitled, part of the world, not a servant to the world, and with a lack of fear.

MG: There are more expectations placed on a woman.

EH: What expectations are placed on a man?

MG: Apart from his position, not much. He’s comparatively free and easy.

EH: How does Malvolio, and his position as steward, fit into this world?

CS: Malvolio is the antagonist.

MG: He’s a stick-in-the mud and an unsavory character. His position in the house is everything. He doesn’t stray from his duties, and he’s a stickler. He’s very judgmental. They all play such nasty tricks on him.

CS: He’s described in the play as a Puritan.

MG: He’s repressed and repressive.

CS: The fact that Puritans in England were trying to shut down theaters constantly gives us a hint as to why Shakespeare was so mean to this person in this play.

MG: Shakespeare uses Malvolio as a vehicle for his frustration.

EH: Why are you drawn to a life in theater?

CS: Shakespeare says, “To hold the mirror up to nature,” that’s the actor’s job. When we go to the theater, we see ourselves. We see the human condition. It moves, it educates, it entertains, it makes us laugh.

MG: Theater is the only thing that really deals with the interactions of people. People say that psychology deals with that, but it’s too scientific. Theater deals with life, with humanity, and with people’s emotions. I need to engage my emotional being with it, so that I can really relate to it. Acting is the only thing that’s ever done that for me.

Why focus on an alleyway, when you’ve got the whole town to look at? My focus is on the whole world, not just one little corridor of thought.

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