Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My First Heartbreak

Photography (edited) by hamkahatta
My favorite play growing up as a kid was Twelfth Night or What You Will, by William Shakespeare.  It wasn't because it had the prettiest love poetry lines, it wasn't because it was a comedy, it certainly wasn't because the main character was female--no, no.  It was because somewhere in that tangled web of prose-gone-wilde, there was a real love story, albeit fraught with homophobia, between two women.

For me, at age 11 this was a HUGE deal.

In fact, anything at age 11 was a HUGE deal, but we don't need to go into that.  Point is, I am still totally a sucker for that play.  It also goes to show that this is why it's important for gay culture/education to be accessible to kids because not everyone is going to go pick up Shakespeare and find an escape route through 400 year old prose.  Only weirdos and drama students do that.


My Twelfth Nights

Don't know the play?  It's your classic love-triangle-gone-awry-because-you-look-just-like-your-twin-brother-and-think-it's-a-good-idea-to-dress-up-like-him-and-convince-everyone-you're-a-man...kind of story.  Ok fine, I'll make the easy reference:  At the end of Shakespeare In Love, the Queen asks Will Shakespeare to write something for the holidays season ("Something for Twelfth Night") coming up--a comedy preferred since he just destroyed his audience emotionally with his emo production of Romeo & Juliet.

This screen shot at the end of the film might help jog your memory:

Scene from Shakespeare In Love.  Captions later added.
So according to modern fantasy, Joseph Fiennes/William Shakespeare goes on to write one of the most talked about plays in history because he can't get it on with Gwenneth Paltrow/Lady Viola because Colin Firth/Lame-O Rich Dude complained to the Queen, i.e., Judi Dench.

Side note:  Why does Judi Dench always play the Queen?  And why is she not REALLY the Queen?

Just curious.

So Back To What I Was Talking About Before I Got Sidetracked By Judi Dench

I couldn't get enough of the film version of Twelfth Night (click here to watch the trailer).  I watched it with my family the first night we cracked open the VHS, and then got up at around 6am the next day just to watch it again. (I didn't want my family to know I was watching it again because something told me my new-found obsession was linked to something more than just your average admiration for iambic pentameter.)

After a while I started to memorize it--not just the lines of my favorite character (they're all my favorite characters) no, no.  The entire play.  I have the play memorized.  I'm not joking.  Think I'm joking?

"If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it, that surfeiting the appetite may sicken and so die blah blah blah I'm a self-absorbed Duke who can't take a hint and is a little bit emo."

What?  I'm not going to type out the entire play but those are the first lines of it and it's Duke Orsino who says it and don't test me.  I know this play.

First Heartbreak = Feeling Invisible Even While Watching A Play About A Cross-Dressing Woman By A Bisexual Playwright

Being introduced to this play was the beginning of the end of my closet-days and I didn't even realize it.  What I did realize was that every version of this play I've seen--and trust me, I've seen it a lot--always seems to focus on the subplot of the pompus man servant, Malvolio, who makes a fool out of himself about three-quarters through the play.  He, like so many people, was led to believe he was going to have a chance with the Duchess, Olivia, and is smartly turned down for it--he even gets sent to prison for it.

(Olivia, you  may or may not know, is the gal who *also* mistakenly falls in love with Viola and in turn, gets rejected by her.  Bear with me.  It's a complicated plot.  If you need help, just watch the trailer for She's The Man. You'll be right up to speed.)

And yet, even as a hormone-driven, sexuality-just-kicked-into-overdrive 11 year old, I knew something was up.  What was with the love triangle between the guy and the two women?  Why was it so awkwardly handled that a woman was technically attracted to another woman?  Why has every production I've seen involved some surreal "Oh, nevermind!  Didn't realize you were who I couldn't be attracted to!" dios-et-machina moment?

In the final moments of the play, when all hidden identities and love affairs are revealed, it is the love that Olivia grows over the course of the play for Viola that is usually tossed aside the quickest and most cruelly.  I know Viola is not into Olivia at all.  I know the script doesn't have much to go on--there are like two lines between Olivia being like "WTF?" to "A sister, you are she!" and wanting to have a platonic sister-in-law sleepover.  But seriously, in any sense of realistic romance, a good writer/director/actor knows that a person can't be attracted to another person by accident, nor can we flip that switch right back off again as if it wasn't there in the first place.

Attraction is attraction.  You either have it or you don't.  And far be it from me to hope that hey, Olivia might have been digging Viola's hotness being all smart with the words and the cute face with the wooing in the first place--not the fact that Viola was secretly hiding a fantastic package.

I hate to admit it, but Twelfth Night's hetero-normative-affirming ending always kills me a little bit, particularly if it's played so flippantly as I've seen it done time and time again.  

Like Patience On A Monument, Smiling At Bieb

If you know Twelfth Night that title was super funny.  If you don't, it's still funny because it has the word "bieb" in it.

All I'm saying is 11,000,000 Bieber fans prove Olivia is not alone.  Men who are feminine-ish are hot and women who are masculine-ish are hot.  To some, at least (not to me, but to those of you who DO find us attractive bless you to bits because I don't know what I'd do without you).

All I'm saying is, it's about time I saw a production that admitted that chemistry Olivia feels for Viola--that at least allowed the possibility for Olivia to recognize something within herself beyond just basic lust.  I've seen so many productions where Olivia gets wittled down to this selfish bimbo who is just as superficial as Duke Orsino.  In that sense, they'd make a wonderful couple.  But, that's not the plot Shakespeare had in mind.  Shakespeare had confusion, gender-bending and general frivolity in love in mind.  At least, that's what I interpret his/their intentions to be.

I get the feeling this is not something a lot people really argue about when it comes to this play.  I get the feeling I will have to just be patient for a different interpretation to come out.


p.s.  Goddamit I'm going to have to make my own, aren't I?  Goddamit.  Fine.  I'll produce my own version of Twelfth Night.  And I'll direct it.  And I'll make it a one-woman show so I don't have to broker contracts.  And I'll even be my own audience--wait.  Goddamit.

p.p.s. For those of you who thought I was going to talk about my real first heartbreak, I apologize.  No blog post could ever sum up what that experience is like for anyone.  Besides, isn't talking about sexy Shakespeare plays more fun?


  1. i would join you in the audience. =)

  2. You are part of a theatre company...

  3. I would go see a play that you produce :) In general, it doesn't have to be 12th night.

  4. @Amy, so sweet. Aaaand you're gone.

    @Ben, *sobs* but, but it won't be the SAME without you.

    @Jen, this is good to know but... you're also leaving! What is with my friends leaving? I think I now know why I have abandonment issues. Ah, well. I'd have to put this play on in Pennsylvania it seems.