Weekender

Penn State Centre Stage takes on Shakespeare comedy

Morgan Kauffman, right, a senior studying theater performance at Penn State, plays the role of Viola in the Penn State Centre Stage production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’.
Morgan Kauffman, right, a senior studying theater performance at Penn State, plays the role of Viola in the Penn State Centre Stage production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’. Photo provided

Starting Nov. 14, Penn State Centre Stage will present one of William Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, “Twelfth Night,” at the Pavilion Theatre.

“Twelfth Night” is directed by Steve Snyder, with a musical score by Penn State junior Michael Cooper, who will act as sound designer, composer and pianist.

The role of Viola will be played by Morgan Kauffman. The cast also includes Gregory Bennett as Malvolio, Johnique Mitchell as Olivia, Katie Nixon as Maria, Gabriel Pena as Orsino and Jake Roman as Sebastian.

In the classic play, Viola lands in a new country and dresses as a man, Cesario, to protect herself. As Viola, she falls in love with her master, Orsino. But as Cesario, she accidentally gains the romantic interest of Olivia when she goes to woo her on Orsino’s behalf.

“Viola is both witty and gutsy — a survivor and a challenger of human spirit,” Kauffman said. “She is very grounded when it comes to love, and does not hesitate to challenge other characters, even when she has everything to lose. She is the boldest character I’ve ever had the fortune to play.”

Because Penn State Centre Stage is setting its production in early 1950s Italy, one of the first things Kauffman did to prepare for her role was to try and fill her brain with images, sounds and textures of that time and place.

“I listened to jazz music and investigated what a young woman of status’ life would look and feel like in this time period,” she said. “I also spent a good deal of time investigating a masculine physicality and voice. I play not only with lowering the pitch of my voice, but also finding a vocal certainty that we associate with masculinity.”

Kauffman, a senior studying theater performance who has appeared in other Penn State productions, said the physicality of this show has been a challenge.

“I spend my studio time trying to work on Cesario’s groundings and sense of weight,” she said. “I never forget that I am not playing a man. I am playing a woman playing a man. This affords me the opportunity to show Viola’s struggle with physically transforming herself to fit into a man’s world.”

One thing that makes “Twelfth Night” unique is the complete ensemble nature of the piece, where many plot lines are tended to with great attention and humanity.

“It offers insight into many statuses of society,” Kauffman said. “I hope the audience can find at least one character in our strong company that reminds them a bit of themselves.”

Despite the age of the work, Kauffman believes it still resonates today — especially when it comes to the theme of falling in love.

“I hope the audience’s enjoyment comes from a place of recognition that we don’t know much more about love today than we ever have,” she said. “We all are making mistakes in the pursuit of love, and there are no guarantees when it comes to people’s hearts. Part of the beauty and fun I hope to share with the audience is a sense of walking a tight rope with no net. We do it because, in the end, love is worth the risk.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Penn State Centre Stage’s “Twelfth Night”
  • When: Nov. 14-Dec. 3
  • Where: Pavilion Theatre, University Park
  • Info: theatre.psu.edu/
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