Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Emerson Resort & Spa Grounds, Mount Tremper

Catskill Mountain Shakespeare just changed the rules about gender representation in Elizabethan theatre!

By Andrew Andrews

Sir Andrew (Sydney Berk) and Sir Toby (Jordan Mann) behave like drunken frat boys in Catskill Mountain Shakespeare’s inaugural production of Twelfth Night at the Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Tremper, NY. Original photos by Rich Wade Photography.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night nods to the Christian festival of Epiphany Eve, when the Lord of Misrule governed wild parties in which social rules—including gender roles—were typically reversed.

Viola, believing that her twin brother Sebastian has drowned when they are shipwrecked, disguises herself as a man named Cesario to serve the local duke, with whom she falls in love.

The duke, however, is in love with a woman named Olivia, and commands Cesario to deliver messages of his passion to her on a regular basis.

As luck would have it, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, and this triangle of unrequited love forms the basis of the story, with a handful of more colorful characters contributing plenty of additional comedy and Shakespeare’s renowned wit.

In Catskill Mountain Shakespeare’s inaugural production, a young cast of classically-trained actors presents the tale on the beautiful grounds of Emerson Resort & Spa, protected from potential rain by a large party tent.

(L-R) Xião, Rob Kellogg, Emily Nedvidek, Jordan Mann, Sydney Berk, K Sotakoun, Che Kabia, Mariah Lotz, Yansa Fatima and Uma Paranjpe.

Based on my recent reviews of Once in Rhinebeck and Tennessee Rising in Manhattan, you probably already know that I’m a fan of outdoor performances—as long as the weather holds up. Not only is this production prepared for inclement weather, but Emerson’s naturalistic, landscaped grounds against the backdrop of the Catskills makes for a gorgeous summer setting. The only additional precaution you might want to consider is bug spray!

Under the direction of Kelly Galvin, the eccentrically-costumed cast really turns up the comedy, and the characters of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Malvolio are delightfully over-the-top. Most of the rest of the company—although subdued by comparison—was well-cast and performed quite admirably.

It’s well known that in Shakespeare’s time all of the roles were typically played by men, with many of them in drag. And while most modern productions turn the tables with female actors dressed as male characters, Catskill Mountain Shakespeare goes so far as to disregard gender norms all-together, with actors costumed according to their own identities. This brings the production firmly into the “20/20s” as America widely embraces Pride and lets go of its traditional gender binary.

Whereas many producers attempt (rather unsuccessfully) to modernize Shakespeare with anachronistic settings, Catskill Mountain Shakespeare breathes new life into Twelfth Night without even trying, just by being true to their generation and the progressive values of our time.

Andrew Andrews attended Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Emerson Resort & Spa Grounds in Mount Tremper on Thursday, August 19, 2021 @ 8:00pm to write this review.