Twelfth Night Offers a Night of Disguises at the Houston Shakespeare Festival

Tracie Thomason (Viola) with Dylan Paul (Duke Orsino)
Tracie Thomason (Viola) with Dylan Paul (Duke Orsino) Photo by Brian Boeckman

click to enlarge Tracie Thomason (Viola) with Dylan Paul (Duke Orsino) - PHOTO BY BRIAN BOECKMAN
Tracie Thomason (Viola) with Dylan Paul (Duke Orsino)
Photo by Brian Boeckman
Viola is the character who goes between worlds in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. That's the assessment of Broadway actor Dylan Paul (Cabaret), who will play the Duke Orsino part to Tracie Thomason's Viola in one of the two plays (Richard III is the other) at the Houston Shakespeare Festival this year.

"She goes into the comedic world and the tragic world. She plays very funny scenes and also has lost a brother in a shipwreck," says the former University of Houston grad student, who has returned to Houston for the festival.

For her part, Thomason calls the play both joyful and quite dark. The UH graduate and experienced Shakespearean actor, now at Julliard in New York City, says she's played the Olivia part before, but always wanted to try her hand at Viola.

In its most basic form, the plot unfolds as follows: A young woman ends up shipwrecked on a foreign coast, her twin brother presumed dead in the disaster. This being a William Shakespeare play, she (Viola) disguises herself as a boy and goes to work for Duke Orsino. She falls in love with Orsino but he a) thinks she’s a boy, and b) is himself in love with another woman. That other woman, Olivia, in turn falls in love with Viola thinking she is really a man.

"The romance side comes from a place of pain." — Jack Young, Houston Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director

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Thomason finds all the intricacies — and there are a lot more — fascinating. “There’s this unrequited love and it becomes about what isn’t said instead of what is. These people in these really complex predicaments and I think we just really identify with the extreme.”

The play is being directed by actor and HSF Artistic Director Jack Young, who compares Twelfth Night to a modern-day romantic comedy.

"Twelfth Night, it's a romcom with the best way romantic comedies work," he says. "The romance side comes from a place of pain. There's a hole in their heart. And the good side of it is that the romance fills it, but the key to romantic comedies is how do you keep the lovers apart for two hours. And mistaken identities that Shakespeare [employs] is part of it."

This is what many people call Shakespeare’s most musical production and in this year’s version, the Bard’s traditional songs have been replaced with contemporary music, played by the actors onstage.

Performances are scheduled for July 28 through August 5 at 8:15 p.m., Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information visit or Free.
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