Gender bending abounds as well as love felt desperately, but not returned by another. And, of course, there are disguises. It's William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and once again Houston audiences are about to embark on the tale of a shipwrecked young woman who presents herself as a page boy and ends up right in the middle of a love triangle.
It's not unusual for the Alley to take on a Shakespeare during a season and the usual contingent of company players is here: Elizabeth Bunch as Olivia, Chris Hutchison as Orsino, Dylan Godwin as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Melissa Pritchett as Maria, Jay Sullivan as Feste and Todd Waite as Malvolio. And returning actors include Mark Ivy, Melissa Molano, and Wesley Whitson.
But there are some new faces as well, and among them, it's clear the Alley is continuing to diversify its casting choices.
David Huynh takes on the role of Sebastian, Viola's lost (presumed dead?) twin brother. The graduate of the University of Houston master of fine arts program in theater has taken on a number of Shakespearean roles, not infrequently played out in the heat of the summer in the Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Now he gets to bring those grand gestures — somewhat toned down — to a smaller, more intimate (and air-conditioned) stage. "With a smaller space in such a beautifully acoustic room I feel that we can meet the audience where they're at. They're closer and what we're sending out is much more immediate."
In fact, it was Shakespeare in the form of The Comedy of Errors that first got Huynh interested in theater. "It was a touring production. They made it look like so much fun. I think it was my ah-ha moment" he says. The other thing, of course, was that one of his best friends told him joining the theater program was a great way to meet girls, he says.
Amid all the comedy, "Twelfth Night really deals with a lot of loss and grief and finding your legs again and figuring out life after all this trauma," says Huynh. "You have people who deal with loss and trauma in different ways like Viola trying to survive after the shipwreck that's claimed her brother's life. Olivia who's trying to live and still grieving her lost brother and even the clowns like Sir Toby Belch.
"Because his brother died and was the count, he should be the new count but all of the responsibilities seem to go to Olivia. He becomes a drunk and that's a commentary on how some people deal with grief as well. And I think we recognize that and we see there's a beauty in learning how to live again and in making that decision that yes, I've suffered this grief and trauma but I will live through this," Huynh says.
"I think my character definitely falls into that suffering immense grief. Half of his life is gone by losing Viola. In the course of the play there's a definite moment when he says 'No, I will make the decision to live again.' And by opening himself up and by being where he is, it lets a lot of really wonderful things into his life."
The play is set in the 1930s which thanks to its costumes gives it a kind of Norman Rockwell atmosphere, Huynh says.
"Growing up the idea of being an actor terrified me because I was a very shy kid growing up. I didn’t expect to find theater or find people who appreciate me the way my theater friends did," he says. When he was a senior in high school he couldn't make up his mind about what his college major should be until his theater teacher urged him to try that major, saying he could always change it if it didn't work out. As it turned out, it did work out and as Huynh says: "It led me to this moment."
Performances are scheduled from October 5-28 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26-$89.