“Twelfth Night”—Shakespeare’s Joyous Romp— at Towngate

Mischief, mistaken identity, love, and joyful revelation abound at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre during its upcoming production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night.”

This production marks the return of the Bard to Towngate’s mainstage season for the first time in more than four decades. Shows take place May 3, 4, 5, 10, and 11.

Director Dennis Fox promises audiences laughter and merriment.

“‘Twelfth Night’ may be the most joyous and problem free romp in the Shakespeare canon. Rehearsing the play has been the most incredible experience because the cast and I have shared so many moments of crazy laughter in creating these characters. Everyone loves comedy and I guarantee the audience will not be disappointed in that respect.”

Left to Right: Mario Muscar (Toby), Chelsey Barnes (Maria), Robert Gaudio (Captain, Fabian), Frank Wilson (Malvolio).

Still Relevant Today

Fox says “Twelfth Night” is as relevant today as when the play was written—more than 400 years ago—because of the universal themes explored in the play.

“The main theme of ‘Twelfth Night’ is how the pursuit of love can be confusing, irrational, excessive, and, most importantly, funny. Everyone in ‘Twelfth Night’ is seeking pleasure and fulfillment. Many of today’s comedies are based on the very same pursuit of love, so audiences will find ‘Twelfth Night’ completely familiar.”

Front row: Ethan Casey (Sebastian), Kaylee Nedrow (Viola). Back row, left to right: Robert Gaudio (Captain, Fabian), Alexander Hill (Andrew), Mario Muscar (Toby), Leif Green (Feste).

The play centers on twins Viola and Sebastian. Separated in a shipwreck off the coast of an unfamiliar land, each believes the other to be dead. Viola disguises herself as a man to find employment but unintentionally catches the eye of Olivia, the beloved of her new employer, Duke Orsino. To make matters worse, Viola has fallen for the Duke. When Sebastian arrives on the scene, he is mistaken for his sister, the disguised Viola. Illusion, confusion, and hijinks ensue.

Making Shakespeare Accessible to All

For many, Shakespeare’s works, even his comedies, may seem intimidating. Fox has been mindful of that when bringing this production to life. He believes Shakespeare enthusiasts as well as those who are less familiar with his work will have an enjoyable theatrical experience.

“Because many people do fear Shakespeare in performance, my directorial approach has been to make this production as accessible as possible, to everyone. Shakespeare’s real genius lies in the creation of his characters, and his incredible understanding of human nature. With that in mind, my focus has been on the characters and how they develop and interact with each other.”

Left to Right: Ethan Casey (Sebastian), Karissa Martin (Olivia), P.D. Gregg (Priest) Hayden Heiserman (Orsino), Kaylee Nedrow (Viola). Front: Leif Green (Feste).

He added, “In staging ‘Twelfth Night’ I have tried to create an atmosphere that mimics how the play might have been performed in Shakespeare’s time—focusing on the spectacle of the costumes more than the scenery.”

The Bard Returns to Towngate’s Mainstage Season

Towngate’s last mainstage production of Shakespeare was “Macbeth” in 1977.  “There is no one specific reason why it has been 47 years since, but I suspect that the added difficulties of staging Shakespeare are part of the reason,” Fox explained.

Coincidentally, the first time Fox acted on the Towngate stage was during that 1977 production of “Macbeth.”

He said actors and audiences are excited about the Bard’s return to Towngate.

“Last year Towngate veteran actor Cathie Spencer organized the ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ weekly reading group and the popularity of that group brought the focus of Shakespeare back to Towngate,” Fox said.

When auditions for “Twelfth Night” were held, dozens of community actors showed up hoping to secure a role in the production.

“I think Towngate had a large turnout for ‘Twelfth Night’ auditions for several reasons. First, it has been 47 years since the last production—opportunities to experience Shakespeare locally are rare. Second, Shakespeare is a great challenge for actors; many who auditioned are longtime Towngate veterans. Third, ‘Twelfth Night’ is probably Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedy and one of his most produced plays.”

Talented Cast

Cast members for the production are Kaylee Nedrow (Viola), Hayden Heiserman (Orsino), Karissa Martin (Olivia), Ethan Casey (Sebastian), Frank Wilson (Malvolio), Leif Green (Feste), Mario Muscar (Toby), Chelsey Barnes (Maria), Alexander Hill (Andrew), Ed Street (Antonio), Robert Gaudio (Captain, Fabian), Lynea Logan (Valentine, 2nd Officer), Bert Hawthorne (Curio), Jon Coffield (1st Officer), P.D. Gregg (Priest), Jana Schodzinski (Servant).

Left to Right: Jana Schodzinski (Servant), Karissa Martin (Olivia), Hayden Heiserman (Orsino), Bert Hawthorne (Curio), Lynea Logan (Valentine, 2nd Officer).

About Dennis Fox

Fox served as assistant professor of theater instruction and director of OUE Theatre at Ohio University Eastern Campus for 37 years. During his tenure, OUE Theatre produced more than 100 plays. “Twelfth Night” is the second play he has directed at Towngate since his retirement from Ohio University in 2021.

“Last season, I had the great opportunity to direct ‘All My Sons’ at Towngate. Like ‘Twelfth Night,’ I had an incredible cast, and the show was a tremendous success. Audiences responded to the raw power of that production. I was incredibly pleased and honored. Towngate Theatre is an invaluable resource to the Ohio Valley.”

Dennis Fox

Fox will also direct a play for Towngate’s 2024-25 main stage season, which will be announced in late June.

“My goal as a director is to give audiences experiences that they may not have had before. I am very proud and grateful to be carrying on that tradition at Towngate Theatre.”

Thank You to Our Sponsors

“Twelfth Night” is presented with support from Towngate’s season sponsor Unified Bank and additional support from David Jolliffe, Clare E. McDonald & Robert J. Gaudio, and an anonymous donor.

As a nonprofit community theater, Towngate relies on the generosity of our patrons, neighbors, and friends.

When you give to Towngate, you invest in our community and the stories we tell together. Donate online today.

Get Tickets

Curtain for Towngate’s production of “Twelfth Night” is at 8pm May 3, 4, 10 and 11 and 3pm Sunday, May 5.

Purchase tickets online or call 304-242-7700. You can purchase tickets at the door, if available. Box office opens one hour prior to curtain.

Join Us for Dinner & Support Towngate Theatre

The Friends of Towngate will host a fundraising dinner at 5:30pm Sunday, May 5, following the matinee performance of “Twelfth Night.”

Cost is $30 per person. You can purchase tickets for the dinner with your show ticket. Advanced reservations required. Seating is limited. All proceeds support Towngate Theatre.

More than theater…

In addition to community theater, Towngate offers children’s theater, ballet, improvisational comedy, and live music. Towngate is also a single screen cinema, offering movies on select evenings and features changing art exhibitions in The Gallery at Towngate. Theater classes are also offered year-round.

Towngate is in Wheeling’s historic Centre Market District. This church-turned-theater is one of several Wheeling venues operated by the non-profit Oglebay Institute. Other OI venues include: Stifel Fine Arts Center and School of Dance on National Road, the Mansion Museum, Glass Museum and Schrader Environmental Education Center in Oglebay.