Duality is often a theme in Shakespeare’s comedies, with twins playing a large part. “Twelfth Night,” the upcoming Sacramento Theatre Company production, leans heavily on the idea. There’s also a duality happening off stage with Kirk Blackinton and Brian Harrower working together to co-direct the production.
The sexually complicated play revolves around the shipwrecked Viola (Alicia Hunt) and the love triangle she creates. Viola insinuates herself into the court of Duke Orsino (Ryan Snyder) disguised as a man called Cesario. She falls in love with Orsino who is love with Countess Olivia (Melinda Parrett), who in turn falls in love with Cesario.
Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, was in the shipwreck where he was believed drowned but this being Shakespeare, drowned twins rarely are.
The subtlety of the play combined with the usual denseness of Shakespeare to the modern ear all add challenges to the uncommon situation of having two directors collaborating on the piece. Co-directing is not unknown in the region, as B Street Theatre occasionally tag-teams directors on its productions for logistical reasons.
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Blackinton and Harrower work together as much for the artistic partnership as efficiency. Last year they co-directed STC’s production of “Julius Caesar,” and they’ve been collaborating in various roles since 2010.
“It’s a questionable choice as a generalized concept,” Blackinton said while sitting in the STC courtyard before a rehearsal.
The “Twelfth Night” cast includes actors they’ve worked with before: Parrett and Snyder in “Julius Caesar.” New are Hunt (captivating last year at B Street in the one-woman show “Grounded”) and Noah Hayes.
Blackinton and Harrower met at Big Idea Theatre when Blackinton was the artistic director there. He and his wife, Shannon Mahoney, rescued the floundering community theater in 2008. It has since become one of the region’s arts success stories with a committed company and solid, enthusiastic following. Harrower did his own stint as BIT artistic director.
Until the machines take over, Shakespeare is true and contemporary.
They bonded over shared ideas about what theater should be and desires to create interesting modern Shakespeare productions that were “relevant to the world we live in now,” Blackinton said.
He and Harrower make it work, Blackinton said, because they check their egos at at the door.
“We can bring something of value. We can provide meaning for the people who see it and our own personal gain is that journey, not necessarily the accolades that come with that journey,” Blackinton said.
He said they get essential support from their wives and the other theater makers who all come together in creating the project.
“We can work collaboratively knowing that if one or the other of us has a better idea than the person who is currently speaking, we can just tag out and let that person see an idea to fruition, and it ends up better,” Blackinton said.
“They do just move back and forth,” said Snyder, a BIT cast member. “It’s always been that way for as long as I’ve known them and done shows with them. They tend to look at everything in mostly the same way.”
They each have full-time jobs outside of the theater, so sharing the load of responsibilities inside the theater is an occasional necessity.
“We’re not always able to be available for all the things,” Harrower said. “It’s nice for us to have a little ability to take one aspect of a show away from each other at times so we’re not so overloaded.”
Harrower usually takes on initial conceptualization, which he and Blackinton then develop, deciding where each will fit in the process. Blackinton said he’s never had an adverse reaction to any of Harrower’s ideas, but Harrower said, “If he’s ever told me the idea was bad, it was because the idea was bad. I do get very excited.”
The actors acknowledged potential difficulties in the directing relationship but said there was none.
Parrett’s take: “They are basically the same in the way that they work even though they might have different eyes. One might be more based in the comic detail and the other the historical detail, but they are a seamless duo.”
For this “Twelfth Night,” which Shakespeare set in Illyria (an ancient region of the Western Balkans whose eastern coast on the Adriatic Sea covered parts of Slovenia and Croatia), Harrower chose a set during the British colonial occupation of the Caribbean in the mid 18th century.
“We wanted to keep that feel of what it was, but have something a modern audience was actually going to be able to recognize,” Harrower said.
“I like the frontier aspect of that. Social structures of the time were fraying a bit, and there’s something nice about that in a play that is so much about how servants become the masters of what’s going on.”
Harrower believes everybody connected to the project needs to understand that the story is a simple human one.
“What Shakespeare writes about is just life. All of these things are things that are still relevant today, and they will be relevant for as long as we’re human beings,” he said.
“Until the machines take over, Shakespeare is true and contemporary. … The language may be dense, but when you have the actors, you can do it – as long you’re aware the stories aren’t antiquated.”
What: Sacramento Theatre Company production, directed by Brian Harrower and Kirk Blackinton, with Ryan Snyder, Melinda Parrett, Alicia Hunt, Christopher Vettel, Noah Lee Hayes, Aaron Kitchin and Sean Patrick Nill
Where: Sacramento Theatre Company, Main Stage, 1410 H St., Sacramento
When: Previews begin Wednesday, Feb. 24. Opens 8 p.m. Feb. 27. Continues through Sunday, March 20, 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Cost: $34-$38. Previews $30
Information: 916-443-6722; www.sactheatre.org