Maryland SPCA an unlikely stage for `Twelfth Night'

Shakespeare play is being given Italian twist by cast


August 11, 2005|By Kate Campbell | Kate Campbell,SUN STAFF

William Shakespeare declared that "all the world's a stage" in As You Like It, and the Mobtown Players' cast of Twelfth Night has taken him literally.

The outdoor production will be set around the weather-beaten pump house near an old reservoir at the Maryland SPCA in Hampden.

"It's got this lovely old patina -- kind of reminiscent of what you'd see in Italy," said Noel Schively, the production's managing director.

Italy? What happened to Illyria, present-day Albania, on the Adriatic Sea, where the Bard set his cross-dressing shipwrecked love triangle?

In addition to choosing an unorthodox venue, director Erin Riley has woven the plot into a backdrop of post-Fascist Italy, near the end of World War II.

"Shakespeare had a tendency in his later comedies to get a little wacky," she said. "It's this incredibly huge, twisting plot. What I wanted to do is give the audience a tangible time period with politics. I was trying to give the audience an appropriate springboard."

She said the styling details fell into place from there. The cast approached Catholic University in Washington and raided its theater department's costume closet for the wide-lapel suits and tailored dresses. Mandee Ferrier, who plays the provocative Feste, composed music for the background and to accompany the three songs Shakespeare included in the play. She said she tuned the radio to swing, big band and Dixieland for inspiration.

"To have that style of music with words like `prithee,' -- I enjoy the contrast," she said. "It's really quite effective."

For the indoor scenes, Michelle Datz, the production's set designer, adapted the decorating styles of the era to suit each character's age and social station. Count Orsino's suite evokes heavy, resplendent Georgian. The bachelorette pad belonging to Olivia, his young ladylove, is decorated in hip 1920s and '30s fashion.

"She's still a countess, but she's younger, more inclined to swing with the times," Datz said.

Soon after the SPCA agreed to host the performance, cast members saw an opportunity to give back to the venue. They staged a photo shoot with more than a dozen animals to publicize the show and the discarded pets' plight. Every animal photographed was adopted. A blue point Siamese named Hannah went home with a cast member.

While the cast has been logging many rehearsal hours in the air-conditioned comfort of the faculty lounge in Seton Keough High School, where Riley and Datz work in the theater program, this is hardly a slapdash summer production.

Jennifer Mikulski, who plays the cross-dressing Viola, practices shadowing techniques with David Baston, who portrays Sebastion. Olivia falls for Viola, thinking she is Sebastion, so the two actors must coordinate their posture and mannerisms to match as closely as possible.

The cast consulted a local expert to learn the right way to execute a Fascist salute -- a right-handed chest thump followed by a slightly limp Sieg Heil -- and Megan Reichelt, who plays Olivia, has been keeping a journal as her conflicted character for the past two months.

"Every time I've performed Shakespeare, it's been relatively within the Renaissance time period," Reichelt said. "I worry that the language kind of jars, but it's also the feeling underneath it."

The actors, from Shakespeare novices to veterans, agree that the time switch presents a welcome challenge.

"Shakespeare's topics are basically timeless," Mikulski said. "You could base them in the future and it would be the same."

The Mobtown Players present William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," tomorrow through Aug. 28 at the Maryland SPCA, 3300 Falls Road, Hampden. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with other performances at 5 p.m. Sunday, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18 and at 5 p.m. Aug. 28. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens. Call 410-467-3057. Visit

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 31.

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