'Twelfth Night' a most eccentric play

Director feels William Shakespeare's tale 'has the perfect balance between comedy and romance'

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2005

For its fifth Shakespeare play in the last seven seasons, Perseverance Theatre is taking on "Twelfth Night," the bard's absurdist comedy about love, rejection and disguise.

Second-year artistic director PJ Paparelli has directed the play five times in his career and dubs this the "most eccentric" of his productions. Eight of the 15 actors were in his Perseverance directorial debut, last winter's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"I thought I knew this play so well, but of course, every production takes on its own energy when you start working on it with a particular group of people, and this group has a lot of quirks," Paparelli said. "I really picked this play for the comic group, because they have such great personalities, and I let that shape the bizarreness of the production. There's a lot of surreal, really crazy things that happen. Animals falling from the sky. Giant birthday cakes. This is the most eccentric of the ones I've done, which I think is great."

"Twelfth Night," first staged in 1602, is sometimes referred to as a "transvestite comedy." Viola, the play's central character, is shipwrecked near Illyria, along Italy's Adriatic Coast. Her twin brother, Sebastian, is lost. She disguises herself as a man, Cesario, to blend into the town and find a job in the house of Orsino, a duke.

Orsino pines for Lady Olivia, a countess who's mourning her dead brother, but he finds himself strangely attracted to Cesario. Viola falls for Orsino, but she must maintain her ruse. The dynamics create a complex triangle, offset by even more triangles involving the rest of the cast.

Shakespeare comments on the illusions and delusions of love in a way that's both crushing and preposterous.

theater 'twelfth night'

when: opens friday, oct. 28, and runs through sunday, nov. 27.

shows at 7:30 p.m. on wednesdays, thursdays, fridays, saturdays and sundays. matinee performances at 2 p.m. on saturday and sunday, nov. 26-27. pay-as-you-can performances on oct. 27, nov. 2 and nov. 3. no show on sunday, oct. 30, sunday, nov. 6, and thursday, nov. 24.

where: perseverance theatre, 914 third st., douglas

tickets: wednesdays, thursdays, sundays and matinees: $20 adults, $15 seniors (age 65-older), $10 students. fridays and saturdays: $25 adults, $20 seniors, $15 students. available at hearthside books, 463-tixs or http://www.perseverancetheatre.org.

"I think that all of us, at the beginning of any relationship, we have this idea of who we think we're going to fall in love with," Paparelli said. "We think we're going to be in a relationship for a very long time and what happens is, you fall in love with someone else. You end up falling in love with the barber down the street. I don't think that's cynical, I think it's very real.

"Ultimately this play has the perfect balance between comedy and romance," he said. "There's this painful melancholy in the play where you can't have who you want and you don't know what to do about it. It's balanced with the most ridiculous situations, and that balance is exciting."

Bina Chauhan (Viola) and Daniel Harray (Antonio) are new to Juneau audiences.

Chauhan, a Texas native and a University of Texas graduate, now lives in Brooklyn, where she's starred or produced in a variety of fringe productions.

"PJ's been very good about helping us make the Shakespeare relate to our lives, and talk about how we feel when we've fallen in love and when we can't have that love," Chauhan said. "It's been great for me as Viola. She's an outsider who gets shipwrecked on this land where all the other people know each other. I've come to Juneau and I don't know anybody. It's fun, and they've all given me the warmest welcome in the world. People in Juneau are incredibly nice."

Harray has appeared in a variety of plays and films in the Seattle and the East Coast. Here, he plays Antonio, perhaps the only truly tragic character in "Twelfth Night." He develops a bond with Sebastian and his stoic demeanor helps emphasize the rest of the cast's buffoonery.

"Sebastian is quite a bit younger than Antonio; he's half Antonio's age," Harray said. "There's a sort of parental relationship that's part of the mix. The other part is that Antonio, over time, develops feelings for this young kid. It gets pretty complex. In the Elizabethan world, I think men had friendships and were much more effusive with each other. We play with where the line is."

Jake Waid plays Feste, a traditional Shakespeare clown character, who moves between the houses of Orsino (Ryan Conarro) and Olivia (Sara Waisanen). Feste may be the only character in the play who isn't inwardly tortured. His wit drives the other characters to self-discovery, and his subtleties are a challenge.

In his last production of "Twelfth Night," Paparelli used Feste as an omnipresent framing device.

"That was the one thing that I did that was just a disaster," Paparelli said. "Feste is the most complex character in terms of understanding arc. I've struggled with that in the last productions that I've done."

"We made a choice that he has particular feelings for Olivia that are somewhere between longtime friends and someone he thinks would never love him. There's that in-between relationship and a lot of that is Jake and Sara. They're very funny with each other."

Ed Christian (Sir Toby Belch), Patrick Moore (Malvolio), Jack Cannon (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) and McLean Cannon (Fabian) had a memorable run as the bumbling "mechanicals" in "Midsummer." They're back together in the comedic subplot, along with Anni Stokes (Maria).

"Jack and Ed and Patrick and Anni have been on stage quite often with each other, and I wanted to play off that dynamic that's already there," Paparelli said. "There's 20 years of history there, which is impossible to replace with actors that don't know each other."

"I haven't worked as much as Ed and Patrick have in the last 10 or 15 years, but we've known each other and I think you tend to find the level where you fit in," Cannon said. "I generally am most comfortable being close to the stupidest person on stage. I would not be very good as Antonio, heroic and macho and all that. I think PJ has done a great job of finding where those of us that have been around for awhile fit in."

Moore has a particularly difficult role as Malvolio, one of the most infamous characters in the Shakespeare canon. A stone-faced steward in the household of Lady Olivia, Malvolio is a puritan in a world of bacchanalia. His righteousness is the anchor for the other character's inhibitions.

"If he's not a jerk, if he's just eccentric, the play doesn't work," Paparelli said. "He really has to be a jerk for the first part of the play to the point where they trick him and then you see this other side of him come out. Underneath all the Puritanism is this sexually repressed, crazy, self-obsessed man. All he wants to do is move up in class and be a count. It's fun with Patrick, because he's a very particular actor. He's very precise about things. It's perfect for Malvolio in so many ways."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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