NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – The actors and staff at North Salem’s Schoolhouse Theater are performing a small miracle four days a week. It is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” and there are more than 12 reasons why it is remarkable, or, as The Bard might say, “wondrous strange.”
More than 400 years after his death, the world still quotes Shakespeare, makes films about him, writes books about him and quibbles about whether he was who he was and, by the way, just how his name should be spelled. As much as we admire him, it is difficult for modern audiences to attune their ears to his Elizabethan cadence and vocabulary.
For The Schoolhouse Theater’s first Shakespearean production, however, artistic director Pamela Moller Kareman invited her British friend and colleague Penny Cherns of London’s esteemed Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to come and direct.
Cherns’ knowledge and skill, combined with a dedicated and talented cast consisting of nine actors playing 16 roles, creates a magical experience. The audience may not always catch every pun or reference, but the point comes across through the excellent characterization, choreography, timing, interpretation and stagecraft.
During the Talkback afterward, Cherns discussed some of the underlying themes of the play.
“I had to decide for myself how old these characters are,” she said. “I’ve seen the part of Olivia played by a 30-year-old woman, but to me these are all young people, just beginning to learn about life and love. In Shakespeare’s time, of course, all the women’s parts were played by teenaged boys.”
Neal Mayer, who doubles in the roles of Malvolio and Antonio, said, “Every time I play the part, I notice something else. I wish it were a longer run.”
An audience member pointed out, “It’s been running for 400 years.”
Ash Law Edwards, playing the part of the doltish Sir Andrew Aguecheek, explained that he delivered his lines with a Southern accent, “because I’m from the South and the cadences seemed to match.”
Cherns commented that it is a logical segue. “After all, Shakespeare was writing at the same time that the English were settling colonies in Virginia. There is a relationship between Elizabethan rhythms and Southern accents.”
In an interview afterward, Neal Mayer added, “Penny encouraged us not to memorize our lines too far ahead of time. ‘Not a single word!’ she said. She wanted to start with a clean slate. We didn’t start to memorize until three weeks before opening.”
Mayer commutes to the the Schoolhouse from Queens for each performance. “It’s really exhausting, but it’s worth it. It’s such a wonderful theater. And I practice my lines on the train before every show,” he said.
“Twelfth Night” at The Schoolhouse Theater will conclude on June 10. Tickets are $33 for Thursday and Friday evenings at 8 p.m. and $35 for Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Sunday matinees are often followed by a Talkback session. The Schoolhouse Theater is at 3 Owens Road, Croton Falls. 914-277-8477.