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Guest Actor Returns to Radford in New Role with production of “Twelfth Night”
“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Act III, Scene 4, Twelfth Night, or What You Will
It is a story worthy of Shakespeare himself. February 2002, an actor braves a snowstorm and an adventurous car ride to reach a university in a Southwest Virginia town he has never heard of to appear in a play he knows quite well. Nearly 13 years and a chance meeting later, the same actor returns to the same university that shares his last name. The actor is U.K.-born Matt Radford and the university is Radford.
Back in 2002, Radford had been hired by the university theatre’s long-running guest artist program to play Theseus/Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” After his wild journey to RU he enjoyed working with the students in the cast, even participated in some classes; and, as a good actor does, he played his role, took his bow, made his exit, never dreaming he would return.
But last March, returning from a conference, RU Theatre Professors Monica Weinzapfel and Wesley Young recognized Radford in the Atlanta airport. During the ensuing reunion Radford revealed that he was teaching just up the road at Mary Baldwin College. Once back at RU Weinzapfel and Young pitched the idea of having Radford return to direct “Twelfth Night, or What You Will.”
Radford’s previous association with RU, not to mention his 25 years’ experience in classical theatre, made it a no-brainer. The faculty loved the idea, the particulars worked out and RU’s production of what he admits is one of his favorite Shakespeare plays hits the Hayes Stage in Pridemore Playhouse April 14.
This “Twelfth Night,” however, takes a slight twist on the well-loved romantic comedy. Reset in the Roaring Twenties, it still has the cross-dressing and cross-gartering along with bootleggers and jazz, topped off with Champagne.
“I was looking for an analog that would fit the play while setting it in a recognizable historical time period,” Radford said. He felt the ‘20s with the shifting roles of gender, the free-wheeling party attitude and even the ideas behind Prohibition make that time period a fit.
In the years since his last sojourn in RU, Radford completed a Ph.D. in Renaissance Drama from the University of Texas, Austin. He joined the faculty of the Shakespeare and Performance program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, from where he is commuting to rehearse the play with RU’s theatre students.
Radford continues act and direct widely, recently playing Antony in “Antony and Cleopatra” with Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare and directing for Heritage Repertory Theatre. He remains active in the Austin theatre scene, where he helped found a company whose works focus on another theatre giant, Anton Chekhov.
“We are extremely excited to have Matt with us as a guest artist,” said Carl Lefko, chair of RU’s Department of Theatre. “Matt has brought an energy and excitement to the collaborative process that has resonated throughout the production team. As we are currently working so hard to revive our regular guest artist program it is important to highlight that this most recent collaboration (with Radford) is a direct result of a connection made when that program was flourishing.”
The department’s longstanding guest artist program, which annually for 30-plus years brought an industry professional to campus to work with students, ended in 2007 when funding was cut. The roster of luminaries who appeared on the Hayes stage includes Academy Award winners Kim Hunter and Eileen Heckart, among others.
Underscoring the value of regular exposure to artists of that stature Lefko said, “For our students, experiences like that are what make the guest artist program so critical to the experiential learning environment.”
Where and When
“Twelfth Night, or What You Will” opens at the Pridemore Playhouse Tuesday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m. and runs April 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 19 at 2 p.m. (ASL).
General Admission: $10; RU Faculty/Staff: $6; RU Student w/ID: Free; Senior Discount (55+): $6; Group rates (10+): $6. Tickets are available online at rutheatretickets.universitytickets.com or the week before the event at the Porterfield Box Office (540) 831-5289. The box office is open from noon to 6 p.m.
Cast and Creative
Orsino: Ian Gammarino; Olivia: Taylor Moore; Viola: Grace Ellinghaus; Sebastian: Brandon Leatherland; Sir Toby Belch: James Bristow; Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Zachary Bacon; Malvolio: Paul Krs; Maria: Annalee Hunter; Feste: Justin Dowdy; Antonio: Shieh’ron Freeman; Fabian: Kiersten Bell; Curio: Justin Kline; Valentine: Brandon Duncan; Captain: Kevin Schmidt.
Scenic Design: Jimmy Ray Ward; Costume Design: Monica Weinzapfel; Lighting Design: W. David Wheeler; Original Music: Tommy Iafrate; Choreography: JoBeth Hardin; Stage Manager: Kyle Gillikin.