Jon Jory has a true love of theatre and interpretation, but he likes to think outside the box in his directing of plays. A play can be interpreted in any number of ways, depending on what we want to see in it: “Shakespeare does not mean; we mean by Shakespeare” (qtd. in Wells 7.) Each play has the potential to be unique every time it is performed, and each interpretation has its own advantages. For this reason, Jory likes to stray from the traditional approach while staying true to essentials, as we see in this year’s production of Twelfth Night.
Most dominant is the fact that the city of Illyria has been moved to an ocean-side town in the 1950’s. Jon Jory feels that the plot of Twelfth Night resembles a Summer Romance, (qtd. in Allen,) so where better to place it than on a beach? The Duke is a good-looking surfer type complete with Hawaiian shirt, Olivia is a popular girl with several followers, and Sir Andrew a goofy golfer, plaid pants and all
It is not the first time Jory has changed the era or the setting for one of his plays. In 1995 he directed a version of Romeo and Juliet, set in Italy during the Second World War; the story was still one of star-crossed lovers, and not a history of communism in Europe (Frye.) Using the war as a backdrop, Jory tells the traditional story of Romeo and Juliet in its original text.
Jon Jory does not butcher plays; he twists them. By keeping the original text and characters, Jory keeps the play Shakespearian; and by changing the setting, he makes it fresh and exciting, and oftentimes more interesting to a modern audience. His production of Twelfth Night includes swords, soliloquies, disguises, wit, and an epilogue – all the things we have come to expect from William Shakespeare – but also cops with guns, girls in swimsuits, wads of cash, and other modern elements to hold our interest. The result could be considered a mutilation; but it could also be viewed as a hybrid, made stronger through its changes; and while it is unlikely to impress a strict traditionalist, Jory’s version has broadened the play’s audience to include pretty much anyone, including young children, and adults who are still children at heart.
Jory is not trying to create a flawless reproduction of William Shakespeare’s play; he is trying to present us with something fun to watch, and also to expose us to a bit of culture, in hopes that, having tasted blood, we will be back for more. A frequently asked question is “why should it be necessary to study a writer whose works were written to give pleasure?” (Wells 3.) Certainly there is more to Shakespeare than meets the eye, but everyone should be able to enjoy his works. The children in the audience of Twelfth Night laughed at the gags and jokes, and the whole affair was a sort of a light-hearted and happy experience. These children will walk away from the theatre not only with the enjoyment of what they’ve just seen, but probably with a seed of taste for the arts, and a desire to go back next time.
But Jon Jory’s un-traditional approach isn’t only changing the time period; it starts when the actor first gets his script. Memorizing your lines right off the bat is “the road to C-minus acting” (Jory 3.) Jory says to read over the play and to separate different conversations and topics. Look into each one. Think about them. Looking at the play as many different parts will help an actor feel the different emotions of each scene, rather than keep the same tone throughout the entire production. Since each person has many different feelings and moods, a good actor should be able to change the way his character acts, depending on the circumstances around him.
Don’t be anything all the time. Don’t be angry all the time, don’t be sweet all the time, don’t be passive all the time, don’t be aggressive all the time. Don’t treat the other characters all the same way. Life is changeable, and so is the personality of your character… Like the old Pony Express riders, you have to be careful not to ride one horse until it dies under you. (Jory 7.)
In Jory’s Twelfth Night, we continually see characters treating each other differently; for example, Sir Toby Belch is flattering to the foolish Sir Andrew, friends with the clever Maria, and somewhat prejudiced against the pompous Malvolio; all of which, actor Eddie Levi Lee pulls off quite well. We also see Antonio being kind and protective of his new friend, but later disappointed in him, and soon furious when he feels he has been betrayed. Most audience members should be able to keep up with changing thoughts or mood swings, and it makes the characters more ‘real’.
Another intentional difference between Jory’s productions and those of other directors is that Jory wants his actors not to be playing the role they saw it on television, but the way a real person, faced with the given situation, would respond. He uses the example of Romeo and Juliet: when we think of Romeo and Juliet, we think of a sappy love story; but there’s so much more in there, and unless an actor really thinks like the character, he won’t be able to draw anything from the script but the lines he’s heard a thousand times, delivered in the same worn out tone that was used for every other version.
Get out of the tone and into the scene. Juliet may love Romeo, but she’s also worried that her brother Tybalt will find him in the garden and cut him to ribbons, as well as being furious with herself for being attracted to a Montague, and scared to death the Nurse will come out and find her in her nightgown talking to some guy. Don’t let some idea of how a scene should sound get in the way of what a character’s action is on a moment-to-moment basis. (Jory 7.)
Again, the idea is to own, to think like, to be, the character. While this may not seem like a revolutionary notion, there are directors who would rather have the well-known, time-tested characters instead. For example, look at what theatre critic Michael Billington had to say about a 1994 production of Twelfth Night, directed by Joel G. Fink:
The women characters were never once allowed to drop to the dreamy and emotional; they were always high, clear and ringing, coming out of a passionate mood. Malvolio was a Puritan prig who flamed up in fury on “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” (qtd. on coloradoshakes.org.)
Fink’s production was traditional and familiar, but in Jory’s version, the women are clever, talkative, and reasonably confident people. In the final scene, Malvolio is disappointed and very upset, but not angry; and his last line is more of a far off dream than an actual threat. So instead of using the cliché characters that we all know, Jory looks at them from a different angle and comes up with something completely different. Combine this with Jory’s other strategies, and the result is a fresh and interesting look at something most people view as ancient and dull.
Allen, Kathleen. “Bright bard: ‘Twelfth night’ gets ATC update.” AZ Daily Star (Tucson, (Sept 8, 2006): NA. InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. Chandler-Gilbert Community College. 30 Oct. 2006
Frye, Rinda. “Romeo and Juliet. (Actors Theatre, Louisville).” Theatre 47.n1 (March 1995): 126(4). InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. Chandler
Gilbert Community College. 28 Oct. 2006
Jory, Jon. “Raising the Stakes,” (Jon Jory on Acting, pt. 3.) 7 sections. 28 Oct. 2006.
Jory, Jon. “The Actor’s Toolbox.” (Jon Jory on Acting, pt. 7. tips 5, 7.) 7 sections. 28
Oct. 2006. http://www.edta.org/rehearsal_hall/acting_7.asp
“Twelfth Night.” the Canon: CSF’s Vision. 1994. 30 Oct. 2006.
Wells, Stanley, and Lena Cowen Orlin, eds. Shakespeare, an Oxford Guide. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2003. 3, 7.