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Jobsite starts the new year with Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’

Bill DeYoung



In Jobsite Theater's "Twelfth Night," from left: Noa Friedman, Cornelio Aguilera, Giles Davies and Landon Green. Image: Stage Photography of Tampa.

Among Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night has a reputation as the silliest, with memorable characters doing and saying (and doing) outrageous things. The title refers to the last Yuletide celebration of each year – it’s literally the 12th night of Christmas – and the play was first performed at the dawn of the 17th century, as a closer for England’s traditional Twelfth Night festivities.

All these centuries later, it’s still silly and it’s still outrageous, as Jobsite Theater’s artistic director David M. Jenkins can attest. He’s directing the latest installment of Jobsite’s once-a-year series of Shakespeare adaptations. Twelfth Night opens Friday in the Jaeb Theatre, inside Tampa’ Straz Center. Preview performances are tonight and Thursday.

“There are all kinds of subplots going on,” Jenkins reports. “On the surface, it’s sort of a love triangle story, a story of mistaken identity … but then there are all the servants in the house that are all plotting against each other. And of course the Fool that goes back and forth between houses, and who knows everything that’s going on.”

It’s also one of the Shakespeare plays that features characters – in this case ladies-in-waiting, servants, couriers and a certain drunk uncle named Toby Belch – speaking in prose.

“So people won’t necessarily hear that Shakespearean rhythm, the iambic pentameter, as much as they would in, say, Hamlet. Generally speaking, I think a lot of the language spoken by the characters will be more accessible for modern ears.”

Jobsite adapts Shakespeare, but never is the Bard’s original language simplified or “dumbed-down” for the audience. Twelfth Night was written that way on purpose.

The story goes like this: On the coast of Illyria, a young woman named Viola is shipwrecked; her twin brother Sebastian has drowned. Disguised as a man (using the name Cesario), Viola goes to work for Duke Orsino, who is in love with the wealthy Olivia. Viola, who’s still in disguise, falls for the Duke, just as Olivia goes gaga over Cesario.

It could be the plot of numerous 1980s rom-coms, or any number of Italian operas. The characters in Twelfth Night don’t sing, however, although there is plenty of music in this production, composed by Jobsite’s resident musical magician Jeremy Douglass.

Douglass wrote many interpretations of Ravel’s “Bolero,” using multiple instruments, Jenkins says. “There’s this one sort of drunk-trumpet ‘Bolero,’ which is super fun.”

He’ll also be playing his keyboards, and other instruments, as the performance is playing out. As if that weren’t enough, Douglass is stage-managing Twelfth Night and will be calling the lighting cues – all at the same time. “It’s pretty amazing,” Jenkins notes. “He literally has all of his hands and feet moving.”

The cast of Twelfth Night includes many familiar Jobsite faces, including Noa Friedman (Olivia/Cesario), Giles Davies (Duke Orsino), Nicole Jeannine Smith (Viola), Roxanne Fay (Feste), Cornelio Aguilera (Antonio), plus Newt Rametta, Jim Wicker, Jared Sellick, Katherine Yacko and others.

“This group that we’ve got, getting to know them and building this team mentality to how we approach things ….,” Jenkins effuses, “this is as much their show, if not more than I would say it is my show. Because watching them do their show has become such a joy.

“It’s different in a lot of ways than maybe what I would have set out with. I’m really struck by what a romantic comedy they’ve made. And that’s nice.”

Jenkins was responsible for the production’s setting, which is decidedly not early 1600s England.

“I wouldn’t say it’s modern, but it’s at least 20th century,” he says. “I don’t even know that the audience necessarily is going to be able to come in and peg exactly where in my brain this show exists. And that’s OK. I think smart cookies will.”

The ancient Illyria, he explains, “is technically like Croatia, and there’s this white, Roman-ruin look to a lot of Croatia. It’s where they filmed a lot of Game of Thrones. I was thinking of those ancient ruins as a starting place

“Croatia’s not the most interesting place for me to set a show, so I didn’t. I thought about the Mediterranean, particularly Tangier in this interzone between the world wars … it doesn’t really have a bearing on the play itself. Visually, it’s just really interesting.”

Twelfth Night runs Jan. 19-Feb. 11 (preview performances are Jan. 17 and 18). Find information, and tickets, here.















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