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Thirteen years after Shakespeare in Clark Park’s debut, the theater group is once again bringing the Bard’s classic Twelfth Night to West Philadelphia. This time, however, director Jack Tamburri has chosen to stage the play as a glam-rock spectacular — an artistic decision which promises to take Clark Park and transform it into an Illyria of excess.
At first blush (or sparkling eyeshadow), the glam-rock approach to this year’s production might seem merely a flashy appeal to novelty. Yet it’s clear that, at least for the cast members, this approach isn’t just a glamorous veneer. Instead, it’s a production value embodying more: “More, more, more — more bodies, more people, more explorations of the situations that everyone experiences, more diversity, more access, and more exposure,” says Jess Conda, who plays the role of Olivia’s court fool, Feste.
Not just star-crossed cross-dressed lovers
Feste and Olivia are just two of the many characters in Twelfth Night who already reflect aspects of diversity. In particular, both share ties to the play’s pervasive themes of fluid identity and queerness. Feste, more expectedly, does so through his role as the costumed-in-costume court jester, while Olivia bends norms through her love for Cesario, the male alter ego of shipwrecked female protagonist Viola.
The classic tale of mistaken identity between Olivia, Viola/Cesario, and Duke Orsino famously results in a comedic love triangle. The amorous hijinks resulting from cross-dressed confusion are central to the plot and interpreting the characters’ various motives. This year, however, actor Pax Ressler says the production will also explore Viola's choice to put on a disguise “not only as a necessity of social status, but also out of a genuine desire to change gender presentation.”
Rad and radical community engagement
Beyond breaking away from the stuffiness of other, more traditional Shakespeare performances, Shakespeare in Clark Park productions also have a history of using the outdoor setting to break down the fourth wall. This year, the group’s dedication to "radical community engagement" takes a new form and sound with music performed by Midsummer Madness, which pairs seasoned professionals with student musicians. With an original score and scenography inspired by 1970s powerhouses such as David Bowie and Little Richard, the dynamic mix of genres and generations is not only very West Philadelphia but, in Conda’s words, “very rock-and-roll.”
The performance will take place in Clark Park’s “bowl,” a former 19th-century mill pond turned greenspace. As usual, attendees should expect a “full bowl.” Veteran cast members recommend bringing sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, and friends to share them with.
Shakespeare in Clark Park presents Twelfth Night on Wednesday, July 25, through Sunday, July 29. All shows begin at 7pm, but pre-show picnics are welcome. All performances are free, with donations enthusiastically encouraged. In case of rain, the show moves to the Annenberg’s Harold Prince Theatre (3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia).
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