State High Thespians’ “Twelfth Night”


“The show dips from pretty depressing stuff to just absolutely hilarious, bonkers comedy and going through that with the cast has really brought us together so well,” said Wassom. Photo by Maezy Leitzinger.

Reece Steidle

Photo by Maezy Leitzinger.

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction. As Fabian said in Act 3,  “Twelfth Night” is truly improbable, as is State High Thespians’ production of this genderbending comedy by William Shakespeare. 

Also known as “What You Will”, this play explores the story of shipwrecked twins and their romantic mishaps. Viola, as played by Mariele Wassom, disguised as a man named Cesario, falls in love with the local Duke Orsino (Audanis Smith), who is head over heels for Madeleine Christopher’s Countess Olivia.

In typical Shakespearean fashion, Olivia falls for “Cesario”, and the confusion is worsened still when Viola’s identical twin brother, Sebastian (Avery Jones), arrives with his pirate companion, Antonio, played by Nate Roberts. Their relationship is subtextually homoerotic and this is all further complicated by Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Luka Donovan), his friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Isaac Vanness), and several servants of the Countess’s household (ie. Al Eburne’s Malvolio). Several of them are in love with Olivia and the rest are simply raucous and obnoxious throughout the play. Most notable of these is Luca Snyder’s portrayal of Feste the Fool and his ongoing musical antics.

Despite this having been their first production since Jill Campbell, former Thespians’ advisor retired, the cast and crew maintained a level of energy and fun that suits this comedy.

Avery Jones, who played Sebastian, described what has been different this year.

“It’s been an entirely new group of people working on it which has been really exciting; it’s been really nerve wracking at times, but I think it’s all come together really well and it’s been, I feel like, a more fun experience than it usually is,” Jones said.

Lauren McKee, a former State High thespian herself, and a recent graduate of Penn State’s acting program, was the director of this play. Students had nothing but glowing praise for her.

Mariele Wassom, the actress behind Viola/Cesario commented on how much she enjoyed working with Lauren. 

“I think that it’s really beautiful when actors become directors because a director like Lauren knows exactly what it’s like to be in our shoes and how to coach us through everything in a really caring way,” Wassom said.

Typically, State High Thespians have performed their shows in one of the school’s several auditoriums, but this year, that changed. For the first time, it was performed with reduced seating in the smaller Black Box Theater. 

Thespians’ advisor, Erik Clayton explained the reasoning behind this switch.

“Play audiences are generally a little bit smaller and even if a play sells well, in an 800 seat auditorium, it can still look empty. But not just that, also, in Shakespeare’s time, the actors would have been right up next to the audience and so, it is, in a way, a little more of an authentic feel for Shakespeare to have it in a small space, in closer proximity to actors. This production actually allows you to be within, you know, three to ten feet of the actors while they’re doing their performances. That makes it a really awesome experience,” Clayton said.

Another highlight of the show was the character, Feste the fool. In Act 3, Scene 1, Viola says, “This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool, and to do that well craves a kind of wit.”

In this case, the fellow is Luca Snyder. Not only did Feste carry the plot forward with unexpected wit, Snyder enhanced the show with his own musical skill, in both composition and performance. There are several songs in the play that Snyder composed and performed in character throughout the night.

He explained how he drew inspiration for these songs.

“The last song was composed by Spencer McKee, Lauren’s brother, but all of the rest of the stuff, I was given freedom to figure out. I think for each of the songs I was looking at, I kind of came from a place of the theme of the scene itself. I took what I knew was happening in the scene and tried to figure that out in a way that you could feel it in the music,” said Snyder.

William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” was brought to life by Thespian Troupe 5029 at State High in a way that could make even the most adamant hater of Shakespeare chuckle and clap. The ensemble cast shared the stage excellently and not one role was lackluster. For anyone looking forward to another show, the Thespians will be performing Michael Stewart’s “Hello, Dolly!” this spring.