Performance of “Twelfth Night” explores non-binary lens

By Heather Fabritze
Elm Staff Writer

The Department of Theatre and Dance hosted “Twelfth Night,” a performance senior capstone experience by senior Percy Mohn, on Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m.

The play, which was performed in Tawes Theatre, was directed by guest director, Gibson Center Coordinator, and Web Content Specialist Patrick Salerno ’21. Tickets were free and open to the public, although $1 donations to the Kent County Food Pantry were encouraged.

Written by William Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night” was a reimagining of the play from the mind of senior Percy Mohn who played the lead character Viola.

Their thesis focused on Viola and how the character can be interpreted through a non-binary lens. During the events of “Twelfth Night,” Viola must dress up as a man to survive and gets caught in a love triangle, leading to a heavy amount of LGBTQ+ subtext.

According to Mohn, performance SCEs focus on “digging into” a specific character rather than analyzing the play as a whole. More emphasis is given to the character’s role within their world and relationship to other characters.          

Mohn did their English SCE on the same topic and used their unique performance as Viola to influence their argument.

While some notable changes were made to the original play’s content, most of the original storyline as well as the classic Shakespearean dialogue was kept intact.

Junior Erika Ekholm, who went to see “Twelfth Night” to support one of the actors, struggled a bit with this aspect of the play. 

“If you haven’t read ‘Twelfth Night’ by Shakespeare, I would recommend that you read a short summary of the story before you go and see the play, as it will make the first part more enjoyable,” Ekholm said.

Otherwise, Ekholm felt that “Twelfth Night” was “good” and much more understandable once the finer details of the plot became clear.

Aside from the comprehensibility issues that arise with any Shakespeare adaptation, there were other challenges that Mohn faced in the development of the play.

According to Mohn, their personal experience with gender influenced much of their understanding of Viola. Their deep connection to the character has led to disorienting moments after Mohn does not step out of character for a while.

This conflict with theirself was one challenge of developing “Twelfth Night.”

“There are times where I come into such conflict with Viola because, ultimately, I’m trying to be Viola through the lens of myself,” Mohn said. “Putting myself into this character and bringing my own non-binary experiences, and then this person is distinctly different from me. And I have to sit down with this character who wants to fight me at every opportunity.”

Playing Viola, and analyzing the character for such a long time, led Mohn to understand new parts of who they are. 

One line that comes at a monumental moment in the play, “I am Viola” particularly resonates with Mohn.

“It’s a very important line, especially with the angle I’ve been taking it, because [it’s] the only indication that Viola is no longer in disguise…When I say that [line], I’m also slightly saying that I am Percy,” Mohn said. “Because nothing, like how I look, how I present, has no bearing on what I feel about myself. It’s like, I am Percy and that’s it.”

The ability to learn about their community’s history, and to find connections with people who have been gone for hundreds of years, one of the most important parts of their SCE journey.

Mohn believes that “Twelfth Night” is a way to show that their identities have always held a place in the culture of the world.

“Our identities have existed for years,” Mohn said. “It’s just that they didn’t have labels. They weren’t understood the way we understand them now, but…they existed. They are like me, and they had the same struggles as me, and we’re going to continue to exist.”

Mohn hopes that those who attended the play found a greater understanding of themselves, much like they did, and that those who didn’t will still find new experiences to reflect on and learn from.

Photo courtesy of Paul W. Gillespie

Featured Photo Caption: At the start of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Viola — portrayed by senior Percy Mohn — believes their twin brother Sebastian has drowned after the two were in a shipwreck landing on the shores of Illyria. In order to survive in this unfamiliar land, Viola dresses as a man and takes a servant position in the court of Duke Orsino, whom Viola falls in love with.

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