By BONNIE WELLS, Staff Writer
Monday, June 19, 2000 -- One of the ways Ellen Kaplan has prepared for directing Hampshire Shakespeare Company's season opener is to pore over the book "The Elizabethans at Home," a kind of Martha Stewart guide to the 16th century.
"Research, reading the text, reading the text, reading the text and dreaming is the process," Kaplan says, "imagining myself into the world of the play and then bringing that into discussions with the designers and actors."
The world of "Twelfth Night" moves from the sea - where a bedraggled noblewoman, Viola, has washed ashore after a shipwreck that has evidently claimed the life of her beloved twin brother, Sebastian - to the estate of Orsino, the love-struck Duke of Illyria and on to the digs of the object of his obsession, Olivia, a countess who will have none of him.
When Viola disguises herself as a man to enter the service of Orsino, she becomes his trusted confidante and the emissary of his suit to the countess. As this plan begins to backfire, Viola falls in love with the count.
Meanwhile, Olivia's uncle and servants, along with the obligatory clown, Feste, conspire to arrange the comeuppance of Olivia's fatuous steward Malvolio, providing some of the play's more darkly hilarious moments in the process.
Valley audiences can see it all come round in the end June 20 through July 9, when the company opens its season under the stars, performing Tuesdays and Thursdays in the garden of the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst, and Friday through Sunday outdoors at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley.
"Outside, you have the joy of the whole space," says Kaplan. "The natural world is right there with us. It gives a power to it."
Chairwoman of the theater department at Smith College, Kaplan has performed, directed and had her own work performed across the country and internationally. She is also active in outreach activities and is currently working with the Hampden County Correctional Institute on a program of theater workshops to begin this fall.
As a director, she says the most exciting and fascinating part of her job is the rehearsal process.
"You keep finding layers of possibility and action," she says. "Every time you look at a line again is like opening up another box of treasures."
The "Twelfth Night" cast blends company veterans like James MacRostie as Sir Toby and Walter Carroll as Malvolio with newcomers such as Smith College student Sharon Horowitz as Viola and Kelly Powers as Olivia. Kaplan says she enjoys the mix.
"Each collaboration is a conversation," she says, "and it's exciting to find the keys to open the doors for the actors."
Then there are the magical moments, late in the rehearsal process, when all the elements come together. Kaplan describes it as a kind of fission. "After all of our work and talk, suddenly it takes off and turns into something more powerful than all its parts," she says.
Starting Tuesday, audiences can partake of the power of Shakespeare's tale of disguise, vanity and romance with some of the Bard's most memorable comic characters and a goodly measure of music, dance and swordplay.
"To me, the piece is about the scales falling away from your eyes," says Kaplan. "It's about all the illusions you start with - the ways we fool ourselves and disguise ourselves - and then growing up and coming to know yourself.
"There's a huge pleasure in that journey," she adds. "I think we all see ourselves just a little more clearly by the end of the process."
Hampshire Shakespeare Company will present "Twelfth Night" Tuesday through July 9 at 7 p.m. at two locations: Tuesdays and Thursdays in the garden of the Lord Jeffery Inn and Friday through Sunday outdoors at the Hartsbrook School, 193 Bay Road, Hadley. Tickets are $12, $9 seniors and students, $6 children. For more information, visit the HSC Web site at www.hampshireshakespeare.org.