A textured projection of surface water masks the Yale Repertory Theatre stage, submerging the space in melancholy blue light while the calming sound of waves crashing permeates through the house.
When the lights fade, the curtain-like scrim remains, appearing opaque until lit from behind. A man emerges — ultimately revealed to be William DeMeritt as the glorious Duke Orsino — dressed in lavish lounge attire seeping with style and ease. He places a virtual reality headset over his eyes as he murmurs the first lines of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
“If music be the food of love, play on …”
Suddenly, a massive neon light blinks to life overhead, and the scrim is filled with bending colors and shapes, as well as grand, dreamlike visions — most notably, that of Orsino’s primary object of desire, the beautiful Olivia, acted by Tiffany Denise Hobbs. As ensemble members join DeMeritt onstage for an electrifying dance number, Hobbs’ gorgeous melody swells and fills every inch of the theater, welcoming us to Duke Orsino’s court.
Carl Cofield’s “Twelfth Night” at the Yale Rep is a majestic combination of elaborate technical theater elements. Given the “unfamiliarity” of the elusive world of Illyria, Cofield and the rest of the stacked design team were able to imagine “with no facts to interrupt,” according to the production dramaturgs’ note in the program. The projection design is fantastical, intertwining Shakespeare’s canonical text with elements of contemporary science fiction. The scenic design is within a realm of its own, functioning in various layers. The foundation of the set is hundreds of wooden planks reminiscent of a gigantic ship, evocative of the recurring water imagery motif. A massive scrim at the back of the space melts flavorful colors together, setting the mood for each scene. In some moments, haze wafts across the proscenium floor like a cold and gentle stream, among a few other wondrous surprises. Various prop pieces fill the contextual gaps of the world, like the tablets used to control Illyria’s advanced technology, Orsino’s Hookah pipe and Feste’s (Erron Crawford DRA ’19) charming scooter that also functions as a microphone.
The costume, hair and makeup design proves absolutely crucial to the Afrofuturistic storytelling while remaining reminiscent of current trends. Characters of noble standing wear sneakers and blazers to combine sophistication and cultural style. These very elements are crucial for identifying with and giving oneself over to the positioning of this near-future world in reference to our present one. The production costume designer, Mika Eubanks DRA ’19, truly breathed new life and meaning into the space. From the deliberate variations of blue found among Olivia’s court to Sir Toby Belch’s —a HILARIOUSLY adorable Chivas Michael — red suede look down to the flask, I found myself marveling over even the most minute of details.
The company is deserving of intense accolade as well, led by director Cofield. Clearly having mastered the tricky navigation between Shakespearean and colloquial English, the actors also skillfully balance the comedy and romance of such a canonical work. Maria, played by the brilliant Ilia Paulino DRA ’20, hits the mark with her infectious performance. From Moses Ingram’s DRA ’19 endearing Viola to the goofy and relatable Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Abubakr Ali DRA ’19, the audience can’t help but fall in love with every character that steps onstage.
Particularly touching was the final scene, during which … spoiler alert, there’s a happy ending delivered with absolute perfection. I’m not just talking about the romance or the deliciously satisfying build of Orsino’s confusion, either — and I swear I could point out the exact moment where he begins to question his own feelings! Despite the two characters having been separated throughout the entire show, the reunion of Viola and Sebastian, played by Jakeem Powell DRA ’19, is enough to fill anyone’s heart with warmth; their familial bond is undeniable.
Perhaps the most resounding aspect of this production is that the love is there, and it is deeply, profoundly felt. “Twelfth Night” will be performed at the Yale Rep until April 6. Do not miss your chance to visit Illyria.
Alexus Coney | firstname.lastname@example.org .