‘Twelfth Night’ and the Use of Stage Makeup

You won’t believe what Mark Rylance, Tim Carroll, and the other cast and crew do for Shakespeare on Broadway. There have been so many brilliant stage productions of the bard’s plays, and unfortunately for me, I haven’t seen enough of them. The current running of Shakespeare’s Globe production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night,’ starring Mark Rylance at Belasco Theatre, has to be one of the best.

Wow, I was blown away, and I’m not the easiest theater lover to please. I’m very often bored by most of the commercial musicals and plays that Broadway ceaselessly churns out these days. I find myself yearning to see great, riveting productions where you are on the edge of your seat for most of the show, and the two and a half hours running time goes by in an instant, leaving you begging for more.

Enter Rylance, Carroll, Stephen Fry et al and voila! The three hours running time went by in what felt like five minutes. What a magical carpet ride these players take you on. I was first captivated and drawn into Elizabethan England by the magnificent “pre-show” display of the actors and crew on stage getting makeup and costume touch ups before curtain call. As the audience trickled in and found their seats, the curtain was lifted and the stage was used as the backstage area. Candles that lit the entire show were lit by the players and crew who also ran around putting final touches on props, etc. The all-male cast were helped into their costumes, which included corsets and dresses for those who were playing the female roles including Mark Rylance as Olivia. They were given last minute makeup brush ups to their white made-up faces. And there were seven instrumentalists positioned above upstage playing beautiful music as well. And the show hadn’t even started! I was on the edge of my seat from the beginning.

The white makeup on the players’ faces reminded me of when I played the great Tennessee Williams’ character in Orpheus Descending –  Carol Cutrere – who herself, wears white makeup throughout the play. It gave a mask-like appearance and always reminds me of the great theatrical makeup traditions you find in Kabuki for instance. Of course, white makeup was used in the Elizabethan times as well.

‘Twelfth Night’ is a marvelous show overall that I urge you to run and see if you’re lucky enough to be in New York until February 16th (when the show closes).

Claudia MasonComment