McLennan Theatre's "Twelfth Night"

Count Orsino (Alec Ehringer, left) employs the servant Cesario (Jaden Fox) as a romantic go-between in McLennan Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

Rather than make Shakespeare more approachable by changing a play’s time period or setting, McLennan Theatre’s production of “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” aims to narrow the distance between play and audience by, well, narrowing the distance.

In contrast to some of the theater’s past Shakespeare productions performed outdoors at the Bosque River Stage, “Twelfth Night” will be staged in MCC’s smaller Music and Theatre Arts Building with a thrust stage extended up to the theater’s central exit. To bring viewers closer, benches will replace the front row seating.

The shrinking space between actors and audience keeps players on their toes, actively connecting with their viewers rather than standing and declaiming lines, said director Kelly Parker. The production’s stage also lacks visual distractions from the actors and action, featuring little in the way of a set and a minimum of props.

“This is how I enjoy Shakespeare,” he admitted. “(Actors) get away with less in here.”

The comedy, named after the post-Christmas holiday for which Shakespeare wrote his entertainment, also features several strong female roles and shows some of the playwright’s more seasoned comic plotting.

“It’s one of his tightest comedies, with many of the elements he’s used before — mistaken identities, women pretending to be men — and by now, he’s more efficient at it,” Parker said.

The story features twins Viola (Jaden Fox) and Sebastian (Trey Barnett) who are shipwrecked on the island Illyria, with Sebastian feared lost. Viola disguises herself as a man, Cesario, to work for Duke Orsino (Alec Ehringer). The Duke is in love with Olivia (Brayden Braziel), who doesn’t return his affection.

Cesario/Viola serves as a go-between and complications ensue, as they always do in a Shakespearean comedy, when Olivia starts to fall for Cesario. Olivia’s steward is the insufferable Malvolio (Nick Marquez), and a trio of Sir Toby Belch (Colten Haliburton), Maria (Kyndal Rinewalt), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ethan Molina) and Olivia’s jester Feste (Kaleigh Huser and Kate Hodge) scheme his comeuppance by making him think Olivia is romantically inclined.

Oh, and then Sebastian arrives on the scene with Olivia thinking he’s Cesario, who’s really Sebastian’s sister . . . or what you will.

A cast of 20 will perform “Twelfth Night,” which also features live, original incidental music written by MCC students.

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