SHERIDAN — When one thinks of Shakespeare one doesn’t usually envision actors wearing fedoras wielding switchblades or bowling shirt clad drunks doing high kicks. The actors of the Sheridan Shakespeare Company, though, are bringing a 1940s noir spin of classic comedy, “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare, to the Whitney Commons amphitheater Aug. 8-10.
“Twelfth Night” is a whimsical play that deals with topics of gender, pride, mistaken identity and love.
When the main heroine Viola is shipwrecked, she disguises herself as a man, Cesario, in order to enter the court of the duke of the land, Orsino. From there, she is tasked with wooing the Lady Olivia for Orsino. Chaos ensues when Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola and Viola falls for Orsino. This love triangle is further complicated when Viola’s presumed dead twin brother enters the scene, causing more turmoil and mistaken identity. This is the second Sheridan Shakespeare production, after the company was created last summer when Montana Shakespeare in the Park was not able to come to Sheridan.
This year, the local production has moved from Kendrick Park to Whitney Commons.
“We’re thrilled to be performing in Whitney Commons because that amphitheater space is made for this kind of performance,” said Josh Hanson, productions co-director. “It’s intimate and allows the audience to be right down in the middle of the action.”
The circular stage and minimal set allow actors to be closer to the audience and provide a more immersive experience of the show.
The era change is also used to engage the audience. Since Shakespearian style language can be difficult to comprehend, the directors and actors hope this more modern spin will increase accessibility to the classic tale.
“I’m a huge noir fan, and basically, when looking at the characters, they fit almost every one of the noir archetypes,” Hanson said. “We’ve got a mysterious rich lady in a big house, a fast talking guy who throws her world into a tizzy. A stuffy butler, a slew of colorful supporting characters, etc. It’s really a question of tone. I love those Bogey and Bacall movies because the dialogue is sharp, funny, and sarcastic, and it comes rapid fire. That’s how Twelfth Night moves.”
Brittiny Morrison, who plays Olivia, is modeling her character after actress Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. To Morrison, the theme of a wealthy female trying to outwit her male counterpart is a strong aspect of both characters.
“It actually allows us to make it more presentable to an audience that might not understand the Shakespearean language as well,” Morrison said. “Because when you’re modeling your characters after film noir movies, you’re able to deliver the lines in a way people recognize and they go, ‘hey I get it now.’”
Aydin Cossel, playing Orsino in the production, feels that the era adds to the drama and understanding for the audience but does not interfere with the message of the show.
“Whatever coat of paint you put on it, it’s going to be the same story,” Cossel said. While the interpretation of the message of the show varied between the actors and directors, the main themes of humility and taking no for an answer show through.
“One of the messages of the show is probably, for Orsino, if the girl says no just accept it,” Cossel said. “Also, say it in person. Tell someone that you like them in person. Orsino is constantly sending his little lackeys after Olivia; he’s never going himself. I feel that the reason is that he’s too afraid to go there and be rejected by her.”
Morrison believes the biggest theme is humility. “Malvolio [the butler] has to learn humility the hard way by being tricked about it, but you can see people don’t like him because he’s cocky. The Duke is definitely very full of himself and you see Olivia doesn’t like that, so she doesn’t want anything to do with him. She’s very full of herself when it comes to Cesario and Cesario doesn’t like that.”
Morrison feels that the only “happily ever after” ending is between Olivia and Viola’s twin brother because they ended up being genuine about their love for each other, which resulted in their happiness.
Hanson believes, even with some problematic, unlikable characters, the show is sharp and funny and discusses relevant, modern themes while showcasing local talent from a range of ages, which makes this production special.
“Sheridan doesn’t offer many opportunities for that kind of cross-over, and I think it’s magic,” Hanson said.
“Allowing for those kinds of opportunities, for Sheridan’s veteran actors to work with Sheridan’s new generation of actors, learning from each other and growing as actors, is also one of the reasons we had wanted to start this company. We’re excited to see how well it’s working.”
“Twelfth Night” will have free performances Aug. 8 and 9 at 6:30 p.m. and Aug. 10 at 12 p.m.