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Lasting themes in Shakespeare play

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From left, Harriet Barrow, who plays Viola, and Wayne Willinger, who plays the Captain, in a scene from “Twelfth Night.” (Courtesy of Aquila Theatre)

From left, Harriet Barrow, who plays Viola, and Wayne Willinger, who plays the Captain, in a scene from “Twelfth Night.” (Courtesy of Aquila Theatre)

There’s romance and mystery. And there’s also comedy in the case of mistaken identity found in William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

The play follows Viola, who is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. She has lost contact with her twin brother and decides to dress as a man and call herself Cesario. She then begins to serve Duke Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, a wealthy countess. In the meantime, Olivia is falling for Cesario, which creates the mystery and romance.

The New York-based Aquila Theatre is staging the classic at Popejoy Hall today.

Wayne Willinger plays Feste, a court jester of Olivia’s household. He also plays the role of captain, Maria and priest.

“In Shakespeare’s plays often there is a fool that has a unique ability to speak the truth,” Willinger says. “Using a jester-like tone, the fool can get away with comments and observations that others would not be allowed to say. … This is what drew me to this role.”

Willinger says “Twelfth Night” is one of his favorite plays because it’s tight and easily accessible.

“The play endures because of both themes and comedy,” he says. “Feminism is a strong and popular theme in the play with characters that are strong female leads.”

One of those leads is Kali Hughes, who plays Olivia. Hughes says she’s tickled by Olivia’s fall from grace in the play.

“She begins the story as the highest-status character in the play, a countess morose with grieving and pursued by several suitors,” Hughes says. “But from the point when she meets Cesario her knees turn to jelly and she stammers her words. Olivia stumbles through many awkward and embarrassing moments in her desperation to possess this young man.”

Hughes says she enjoys playing Olivia because there is witty banter and she shares Olivia’s appreciation of handsome, androgynous redheads.

“I adore her lofty regal sort of grace juxtaposed with her clownish plunge into humiliation and comic desperation in love,” Hughes says.

Hughes says “Twelfth Night” has endured because the audiences can all relate to a bruised heart.

“We see the humor in these characters,” she says. “Because they hold a mirror up to our naked selves.”

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