Director Discher makes an auspicious main stage debut at The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival with this dreamy, aqua-tinted production...
— The Daily Record
…one hell of a Hellenic production.
— The Star-Ledger
Director Joe Discher has infused this production with unflagging energy and endless good fun. Flowerpots sprout legs, a proposed duel becomes a raucous vaudevillian sketch, with both swordsmen dissolving into paroxysms of terror.
— The Montclair Times

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Joseph Discher

Scenic Design by Troy Hourie

Lighting Design by Bill Berner

Costume Design by Isabel Rubio

Original Music by Joseph Discher & Tamara Harvey

Fight Director - Rick Sordelet

Production Stage Manager - Martin Lechner*


Natasha Badillo | Servant to Olivia

Jeffrey M. Bender | Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Walter E. Cupit | Fabian, Sailor

Tom Delling* | Orsino

Ryan Dunn* | Maria

Edmond Genest* | Malvolio

Kevin Henderson* | Sebastian

Caralyn Kozlowski* | Olivia

Lauren Lovett* | Viola

Masha Obolensky | Gentlewoman

Nayan Panchal | Servant to Orsino

Seth Rabinowitz | Servant to Orsino

James Michael Reilly* | Feste

Kevin Rolston | Sea Captain, Priest

T.R. Shields* | Antonio

Andrew Schwartz | Valentine, Second Officer

Malcolm Tulip* | Sir Toby Belch

Vasilis Tsoukalas | Bouzouki Player

Jared Zeus | Curio, First Officer

*member Actor's Equity


This play is very special to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that in one of my very first experiences at NJSF, nine summers ago, I was playing Valentine and Officer #2 in the production of Twelfth Night directed by Bonnie J. Monte, my mentor.  When I walked out on stage at the top of the show each night and nervously played my violin before Orsino would speak his famous opening line, I never imagined that years later it would be the first play I would direct on the Festival’s Main Stage.

When I began working on the play, I felt my first task was to find a magical place for the story to unfold, a place where people might lose themselves, a place that inspires wonder, a place where anything can happen.  After reacquainting myself with the characters that inhabit the world of Illyria, I found the major qualities they seemed to have in common were excess and indulgence, and I searched for a physical world that might suggest that excess and still allow for all the locales of the play.

I found that world in a picture of a royal bath, and in a dolphin fresco from an ancient palace.  The fresco leapt off the page at me.  I was struck by the influence that the sea has on the play and its characters.  Viola’s journey begins with the sea, and through her, the journeys of all the characters occur.  I envisioned, therefore, a place that is as connected to myth, music and the sea as the play is.  I envisioned Greece.

As anyone who has seen Twelfth Night can attest, the play is filled with a plethora of themes and issues, so to confine it within a naturalistic or literal world does not do it justice.  There are so many themes to be explored—unrequited love, passion, grief, gender, desire, madness, revenge, disguise, fate, folly, and the list goes on.  What struck me the most was the role that each character’s identity played in all of these themes, and the way the recurring theme of identity drives the emotions and actions of the play’s characters.


Jonathan Crewe’s introduction to the Pelican Shakespeare edition of Twelfth Night notes that “in the hands of a master of comedy like Shakespeare, the changes rung on the comedy of mistaken identity do not just result in the hilarious cross-purposes in the action, that is to say, in lively farce—but as many critics have noted, in a searching examination of the human identity.”

Webster’s defines “identity” as: 1) sameness of essential or generic character in different instances.  2) the distinguishing characteristic or personality of an individual.

Underlying the enticing comedy and the many universal themes in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare seems to be suggesting that the nature of identity is indefinable; changeable and elusive at best, and subject to “place, time and fortune.”  Identity is delicate, transient and something to be protected…

Conceal me what I am.

Or proclaimed

            I’ll confine myself no finer than I am.

In one moment it is defined by our intellect…

Thus far I will boldly publish her: she bore a mind that envy could not but call fair.

And in the next, by our emotions…

            That instant was I turned into a hart…

It is shaped by how we think of ourselves…

            I am a fellow of the strangest mind in the world…

And even subject to the opinion of others

            Run after that same peevish messenger.

Each character seems to be dealing with his/her own identity in some way throughout the course of the play, whether by disguise or concealment, questioning other’s identities, attempting to be understood, or changing behavior.  Feste says he “profits in the knowledge” of himself, and at the very least understands the inconstant characteristics of identity, while the rest still search for what it is that defines them.

Viola has the most tumultuous search of all, and her identity changes more than she could ever have imagined when making the decision to serve Orsino in the guise of Cesario.  It is, in fact, redefined at nearly every moment:

I AM NOT THAT I PLAY…I AM A MESSENGER…What I am and what I would are as secret as maidenhead…I am a gentleman…I am no fee’d post…I am the man…Now I am your fool…I am not what I am…

Not a woman, because she is dressed as a man?  Or, not a man because underneath the clothes she is truly a woman?  As Feste says, “cucullus non facit monachum”—“the cowl makes not the monk.”  But as he also says, when impersonating Sir Topas, “that that is, is, so I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson.”  The concept turns around and around on itself, until it seems that Cesario speaks partly on faith when reunited with Sebastian, saying…

            …I am Viola.

…and it is as much with relief as with happiness that she relinquishes the burden her dual identity has become.

While identity is clearly an issue for the characters in Twelfth Night, it can also be said that the play itself searches for its own identity.  It has been categorized as many things—among them a “lively farce” and a bittersweet comedy, but perhaps what I love most about this play is that it is both those things and much more.  Best of all, it does not end with all things neatly tied up.  It is like life.  Sometimes we are left wondering what is next.  And for all the exploration of the nature of identity Twelfth Night may contain, what you take away from it must ultimately be “what you will.”