Main Street Theater is following up its sleeper hit season opener Silent Sky (so successful that it played to full houses and had its run extended) with one of William Shakespeare’s best known works: Twelfth Night. In a co-production with the Prague Shakespeare Company, Main Street is presenting the classic tale of shipwrecked twins, gender-bending romance, and classic characters both conflicted and confused about life.
Rebecca Greene Udden, Main Street's founder, was hired by Guy Roberts, founder of the Prague company, to direct the play. “We have produced it before. I've been in it and costumed it, but I'd never actually directed it,” she says.
“It's just a lovely play. So much fun. I think this production is a little bit different in that Orsino and Olivia are more mature. They're not the young lovers. They're people who’ve had some life experience so it's a little bit more interesting play because of that,” Udden says. “The actress playing Olivia is so smart and so interesting. That's Jan Thompson, who is also the British ambassador to the Czech Republic.” Thompson, who had taken acting classes in college and had a career with the BBC before joining the British version of the U.S. State Department, where her duties included conflict resolution in Afghanistan, signed up for acting classes with Roberts when she arrived in Prague. “She just kind of took this up as an activity, and she's really good,” Udden says. Roberts plays Sir Toby Belch and Jessica Boone is Viola.
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Also notable: the extravagant, eye-catching costumes. “It's fairly traditional in the look of it. We had access to really fabulous costumes in the National Theater; they have a great working relationship with the National Theater there,” Udden says.
The high points of the convoluted plot: Viola ends up in the kingdom of Illyria after being shipwrecked, and her twin brother Sebastian is nowhere to be found. She presents herself as a man named Cesario and goes to work for Duke Orsino. Orsino thinks he's in love with the Lady Olivia. Olivia falls for Cesario (who is really Viola). And Viola/Cesario falls for Orsino. Added to this classic triangle of thwarted passion is Olivia's drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch and the comic foil Malvolio, who believes Olivia loves him. Sebastian finally shows up and there's all sorts of confusion when Cesario/Olivia stands next to him. Anyhow, everything is sorted out happily enough at the end, well, except for Malvolio.
“It's got the great low humor that you also have in Midsummer [Night's Dream], which is probably the most produced comedy. The Malvolio character is pretty priceless. Then the gender bending is also fun for audiences,” Udden says.
Performances are scheduled for December 31 through January 10 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sundays. Main Street Theater – Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $20-$39. Student tickets are available for $10 on Fridays and Sundays.