"Twelfth Night's" Olivia: The Original Cougar?; Plus: Diversity Hot Damn

Posted by Prince Gomolvilas
ON Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Every time I see a Shakespeare play or movie adaptation, I am reminded of how Shakespeare is responsible for so many phrases in the English language. After catching Chalk Repertory Theatre's playful and spirited production of Twelfth Night this past weekend at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (seriously!), I was once again struck by Willy's lasting influence—for example, these common terms were probably first coined, in some form, in this play:

  • jaws of death
  • caterwauling
  • night owl
  • cakes and ale
  • in stitches
  • the third degree
  • rack your brain
  • horse of a different color
  • well-hung

I've seen Twelfth Night several times over the years because, perhaps, it is arguably the easiest to understand, text-wise, of all of Shakespeare's plays. But what struck me most about this viewing is that Olivia—the play's lovestruck countess—may very well be the original cougar.

Now there have probably been plenty of May-December romances depicted in literature before 1602 (Twelfth Night's first recorded performance), but I bet none of them feature a woman who so vocally expresses a desire to pounce on a young man.

I should mention that we don't really know how old Olivia is, so my cougar reading may be way off—but she does frequently refer to the object of her affection, Cesario, as a "boy" and a damn young one at that. You go, girl! Get yourself some young man meat! (For the uninitiated, Cesario is actually a girl named Viola, posing as a dude, for reasons that are still unclear to me even after repeated viewings. Go figure.)

A few more things about this production.

Loren—who can at times be arts phobic, particularly when it comes to theater—really enjoyed the play and production, so much so that he Facebook-ed it and told me over Thai food in Thai Town afterward, "Based on that show alone, I want to subscribe to that company's entire season."

One of things that he is responding to, perhaps, is Chalk Rep's effortless interracial casting practices (which they've pulled off time and again). It makes me think about those theaters who say they aim for diverse casts but fall short because actors of color "don't audition for our shows" or "we don't know where to find them" or "none of the few we managed to see were good enough to be cast."

When it comes to the theater industry's lack of diversity in non-ethnic-specific theaters, I've heard these kinds of excuses since the beginning of my theater career a dozen years ago. My response to those theaters? You are not trying hard enough. Or: your theater has not built a reputation of being welcoming to actors of color. That's it. It's one or the other. Seriously. And if it's one or the other, you have to figure out why and what the hell you're going to do about it, if indeed your desire for diverse casts is more than just lip service.

Anyway, Chalk Rep's Twelfth Night, directed by Jerry Ruiz, is chock-full of strong ensemble work (with actors sporting hipster clothes) and features a groovy live band. And while I don't really want to single actors out because of that strong ensemble, I am compelled to mention Guilford Adam's appropriately funny and energetic jester, Peter Wylie's emotionally centered Antonio, and Owiso Odera's smooth-as-silk Orsino.

Chalk Repertory Theatre's production of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare runs through February 28, 2010, at the historic Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Visit the Chalk Rep website for tickets and more information.
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1 Comment

  1. My father, a long-time Shakespeare educator, would certainly agree with your connections.


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