Saturday, May 10, 2008

Veteran actor nabs Twelfth role

By Greg Burliuk
Whig-Standard Staff Writer

Matt Davis figures he’s acted in about 100 plays and scarcely a year goes by when you don’t see him in two or three of them. And, yet, only now is he making his directorial debut with the Bottle Tree Productions presentation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

In amateur theatre ranks, usually someone directs a play before his acting credentials have hit 20 – not 100. So what was the holdup with Davis?

“For a long time, I wanted to focus on acting,” Davis says.

“And I didn’t feel confident enough to direct something.

“After I went to George Brown College [to study theatre] for three years, I thought I would do it but that was five years ago and it seemed like that was something I never had time to focus on.”

How he got the gig to direct Twelfth Night came by accident rather than design.

“I was dropping a poster off at the Wellington Street Theatre about a staged reading we were doing of Nightmare Before Christmas,” Davis says.

He bumped into Charles Robertson, who runs the Wellington and is also one of the partners of Bottle Tree Productions.
“[He] showed me a list of plays they were going to and asked me if I was interested in directing any of them. When I saw Twelfth Night, I thought, ‘Why not, it’s one of my favourite Shakespearean plays.’ ”

Davis has a soft spot for Twelfth Night because he enjoyed acting in the play when he was in high school.

“I played Sir Toby Belch and it was fun playing the big, blustery alcoholic,” he says.

“I thought it would be fun to revisit the play as a director.”

The director hasn’t been afraid to give this production his own stamp. The play is set in Illyria, located on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, but Davis has relocated it to * Kingston in the early 19th century.

“The set will show the Murney Tower under construction as well as part of a limestone wall,” Davis says.

“And the stage will have two decks like a ship along with things like barrels and ropes. A big shipwreck starts the play going and we’ve had tons of shipwrecks in this area, so that’s why I thought we could set it here.”

The play has a couple of different plots. One plot revolves around the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are involved in a shipwreck as the play opens. Thinking her brother is dead, Viola poses as a man she calls Cesario, and enters into the service of the Duke Orsino. The latter is in love with Olivia and sends Cesario to plead his case. Meanwhile, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino, and Olivia with Cesario. When Sebastian arrives on the scene, confusion really begins to reign as he is mistaken for Cesario.

The other plot involves a group of drunkards, led by Sir Toby Belch, who decide to torment Olivia’s strait-laced steward Malvolio, who disapproves of their wine-sotted ways. They convince Malvolio that Olivia is in love with him and wants him to act in weird fashion to show his love for her.

Since gender-bending is part of the plot, Davis had no problems changing one of the characters from a male to a female one.

“In the play, Fabian is a groundskeeper who is accused of running a bear-baiting ring,” Davis says. “Because Kristin Rogerson was so right for the part, I changed Fabian to a woman. It makes it even better when a sweet young woman is accused of bear baiting.”

For much of the casting, Davis called on several other acting friends with whom he was worked with many times over the years.

“It’s great when you’ve got a group of people you know will support you and are like-minded,” he says.

That group includes Steve Spencer (Sir Toby Belch); Clay Garrett (Sir Andrew Aguecheek, one of Sir Toby’s drinking buddies); Krista Garrett (Maria, Olivia’s maid); and Kevin Fox (Duke Orsino).

The cast also includes Amy Bello as Olivia, Terry Wade as Malvolio and Craig Deacon as Feste the clown. Playing the roles of the twins, Viola and Sebastian, are high school students Ana Matisse and Tom Sinclair.

Twelfth Night

 Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard

Ana Donefer-Hickie (left), Kevin Fox and Craig Deacon star in a scene from Twelfth Night. Director Matt Davis has changed the plot of this Shakespeare classic from Illyria, located on the Adriatric Sea, to Kingston, with Murney Tower featured in a small role.Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard