Hot ‘Night:’ MAT relocates Shakespeare’s last comedy to warmer climate of California

Hot ‘Night:’ MAT relocates Shakespeare’s last comedy to warmer climate of California

Jay Pyette

April 29, 2011, by Joe Nickell, Missoulian

Great art has the ability to transport you to another time and place. And the way Linda Grinde figures, she’s not the only one who wants to be someplace other than western Montana right now.

“I’m pretty tired of the weather we’ve had around here lately,” sighed Grinde. “So when I was looking at where we would set this production, I just couldn’t take a drizzly English countryside of any time period. … I was thinking, Southern California sounds really nice right about now.”

Thus, when Montana Actors’ Theatre opens its production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” audiences will enter through the doors of the Crystal Theatre into the pseudo-mythical realm of mid-19th century California, a place where bright and warm colors dapple the land.

While that might not be the setting Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote “Twelfth Night” in the first years of the 17th century, Grinde said she hopes the approach will help shed some welcome light on the criss-crossed affections and mistaken identities that fuel the great English playwright’s final comedy.

“We’ve added some chili peppers to it, so to speak,” said Grinde. “If it’s going to stay gray outside, we’re wanting to bring some sunshine inside.”

Penned just after the lively comedy “As You Like It” and just before “Hamlet,” “Twelfth Night” was originally intended as a festive wintertime lark, to be performed on the holiday of the same name, which ends the Christmas season.

The play concerns itself with straightening out a tangle of misguided love interests involving Orsino, the duke of a seaside kingdom called Illyria; the bereaved countess Olivia; a young page named Cesario, who is actually a woman named Viola in disguise; Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian; and an assortment of colorful characters who variously help and hinder the misguided affections of the central cast.

Though filled with improbable plot twists and boozy mirth, “Twelfth Night” isn’t all fun and games. By addressing themes of narcissism, grief, sexual ambiguity and madness, “Twelfth Night” has long been celebrated by critics and historians for bridging the lightheartedness of Shakespeare’s earlier plays with the serious content of his later tragedies.

“This is a comedy; and yet, because it’s Shakespeare, it’s got all levels of a great play and can make you think as well as laugh,” said Grinde. “It’s funny because it really delves deeply into human nature. We’re all conniving and trying to seek our own self-interests, and the humor comes when those interests crisscross.”

Grinde, who comes to the production with a background in dance, said she has drawn on her experience as a choreographer in this, Shakespeare’s most overtly musical play. A small group of musicians will enhance the mood by performing on stage at various interludes in the production.

Taken in whole, Grinde hopes the production will help breathe life into Shakespeare’s lively lines.

“If you think of the text as simply a skeleton, we’re really working to put flesh on it and make it as human and as available as possible,” she said. “Fortunately, since this is Shakespeare, it’s a very rich text to begin with. You can really mine the text for levels of character and color and tone that you might not find elsewhere. I’ve got a wonderfully brilliant cast to work with, so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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