St. Albert actor Alexandra Dawkins is a veteran of Fringe festivals and NextFest. And she’s handled The Cherry Orchard and The Tempest with appropriate aplomb.
But the University of Alberta BFA acting student was never cast in a gender-bending role as Malvolio until Studio Theatre’s upcoming Twelfth Night.
Yes, she’s playing a woman, playing a man – one who is put in the dungeons and potentially goes mad at the end.
Malvolio is the dour, prudish steward of Lady Olivia’s household. His sin is attempting to break through the glass ceiling of social class.
When several characters take offence at his constant efforts to spoil their fun, they engineer a practical joke making him think Olivia is in love with him.
“I feel both terrified and excited to take on this role. He is a fun character that goes to the extreme. He’s in love with power and the trick that’s played on him pushes him to the edge. He’s blinded by his egotistical attitude and crushed at the end,” said Dawkins.
Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy, a spoof on love that was originally performed Jan. 7, 1602 on the 12th night of Christmas. It begins with a shipwreck and ends with reunions and marriage.
It was commissioned and presented at Middle Temple Hall for a class of graduating law students. On the 12th night, the roles of nobility and servant are reversed, a custom that played a large role in the play.
The success of Twelfth Night depends on a reversal of fortune, cross-dressing, mistaken identities, gender-bending, misplaced letters and sexual ambiguity. It’s generally a romantic mess that is straightened out and wrapped into a tidy present by the end.
The big challenge for director Ashley Wright was to make the popular play relevant to modern audiences.
“Twelfth Night was always a puzzle for me. There was something not quite right about it until I studied Brecht’s epic theatre,” said Wright, an MFA directing candidate.
“I could see doing it as a meta-theatrical production with a group of travelling actors putting on their version of Twelfth Night. We’re doing this very much in a presentational style. We start off with a blank stage and we see the actors come in and set up and take down.”
In the style of epic theatre, visible costume racks are rolled onto an empty playing space while the action takes place upstage close to the audience.
“It’s in keeping with the play. It doesn’t change the dynamics. In fact, it emphasizes the different conceits.”
For the young cast of BFA actors, one of the big challenges was the Elizabethan turn of phrase.
“My biggest challenge is keeping the text buoyant and lifted so the audience is not fuzzy and confused with what I’m doing,” said Dawkins. “I’m just grateful my text is not written in iambic pentameter.”
As for liking Malvolio, a snooty character many pity, Dawkins says, “Although he’s a shady guy and full of himself, he’s just trying to keep the household together.”
Twelfth Night<br />Studio Theatre<br />Nov. 24 to Dec. 3<br />Timms Centre for the Arts<br />87 Ave. and 112 St.<br />Tickets: $12 students, $22 seniors and $25 adults