43rd Season of Unadilla Theater: Rural Theater Tackles ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘Iolanthe’ | Vermont Arts


Mistaken and hidden identities, pranks, merrymaking, mischievous fairies, pompous peers – joy and music abound as the Unadilla Theater in Marshfield opens its 43rd season of community theater with Shakespeare in one performance hall and Gilbert and Sullivan in the other .

The castaway Viola, the gratin Orsinio, the wanted Olivia and the others from William Shakespeare’s comedy ‘Twelfth Night or What You Will’ perform on stage at the Festival Theater in Unadilla. Directly opposite the two gardens of the theatres, the ageless fairy “Iolanthe”, her half-fairy son Strephon, the excruciatingly aristocratic Lord Chancellor and other peers and fairies are found in the original Unadilla theater in the comic opera” Iolanthe” by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Both productions open Thursday, June 23 and run through July 2.

In a breathtaking pastoral setting – Scottish Highland cattle and sheep graze in the gently rolling surrounding fields – Unadilla was founded in 1979 by Bill Blachly. This year, true to tradition, the original Proscenium Sheepfold Theater opens with Gilbert and Sullivan. The versatile arena-style Festival Theatre, great for Shakespeare, was built ten years ago.

“Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and features some of the most beloved characters in the entire canon. It’s wonderful to be able to do that,” said director Joanne Greenberg, noting that this is the Bard’s most musical work.

With its love triangle and entanglements, the animated rom-com is set by the sea in Illyria — which Greenberg set up in 1950s Nantucket.

Surviving a shipwreck, Viola thinks her beloved twin brother is lost at sea. Viola disguises herself as a young man, takes the name Cesario, and obtains a position in the service of Duke Orsinio. Orsinio is in love with Olivia who, in mourning for her brother, does not envisage marriage. Orsinio asks Cesario to profess his love to Olivia. Olivia, in turn, falls in love with Cesario.

Olivia’s uncle, Toby Belch, the squires and servants have pranks and nonsense up their sleeves, especially for Olivia’s pompous steward, Malvolio. And you remember the missing twin?

“Thinking about doing it this time around, more than ever before, I was struck by the issues of gender identity and sexual stereotyping,” said Greenberg, who directed numerous Shakespeare productions during his tenure. at U-32 High School and has led adults for the decade since graduating.

“I didn’t want it to be buried in the distant past, but I felt it had to be set in a time and place where some of those stereotypes still held – to help explain why Viola would feel the need to dressing up as a man.. I chose the 1950s as a time when some of that rigidity of gender identity was still in place,” Greenberg said.

Nantucket offered a seaside and class-status context.

“That time and place felt like a really appropriate time and place where people would bump into the limits of all these social codes. But even as they rub against each other, a wonderful thing about this piece is that these are both still very grounded but also quietly reversed and challenged.

“Shakespeare loved creating opposition. That dynamic is so fun to explore,” Greenberg said.

The cast is “talented, experienced and knowledgeable about Shakespeare”, said Greenberg, noting that it is an “accessible, understandable and hugely entertaining production”. You don’t have to have grown up going to Shakespeare to really appreciate it.

“Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri”, the seventh of Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaborations, opened in London in 1882. It brings together the fairy realm and the mortal world of British peers – satirizing law, dysfunctional government and aristocratic society along the way.

“It’s a great piece of music, and it has a different pacing than the other Gilberts and Sullivans. It doesn’t have the usual plot and pokes fun at all those political things that are still going on today” , said director Erik Kroncke.

The fairy Iolanthe, having married a mortal, was banished from the world of fairies. In the mortal, she had a son, Strephon, now a shepherd. After 25 years, Iolanthe is allowed to return to the faerie fold, with the mortal bride no longer there.

Strephon reveals to his fairies his love for the mortal Phyllis, ward of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor and many other peers are also fond of the beautiful Phyllis. Phyllis loves Strephon – but there’s the problem of her lowly status. The fairy queen casts a clever spell to raise him.

Confusion ensues, along with relationship misunderstandings, surprised identities, and plenty of satire of the absurdity of human and faerie laws – all to Sullivan’s lively score.

The score, typically Sullivan, “also synthesizes numerous lyrical references. Among others, you will also hear nods to George Frederic Handel (fugal and flowery passages), Felix Mendelssohn (similar lightness of the fairy music of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and of course, the essential references to humor musical by Jacques Offenbach, whose comic operas inspired the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon,” said musical director Mary Jane Austin.

“Wagner’s operas had only just appeared on the stage in England and so there are several references to these, such as the original Fairy Queen costume, which was a copy of Brünnhilde’s costume, with the helmet on opera horns. Also, at one point, the fairies sing “Willahallah! Willaloo!” much like the “Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle, walle zur Wiege! Wagalaweia! Wallala weiala weia! and there is an unmistakable Wagnerian influence on Queen’s music,” Austin said.

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