Avant Bard theatre announces the full cast and creative team for its 2018/2019 season opener, Illyria, or What You Will, freely adapted from Twelfth Night by Jonelle Walker and Mitchell Hébert and directed by Mitchell Hébert. Illyria reimagines Shakespeare’s comedy of mixed-signal love as a bohemian cabaret set in a Manhattan dive bar in the early 1980s, where identity, sex, and gender are what you will—and habitués find freedom to be who they truly are.
“Illyria is the ultimate humanizing of Twelfth Night,” said Director and Co-Adapter Hébert. “Everybody gets to tell their story unobstructed. All the characters are explored fully and completely. That includes a trans character; that includes gay men; that includes a straight man who may or may not be bisexual. It includes a pansexual woman and a drag queen. And it includes two women performing masculinity. They’re going to be sending it up, the way women can because of their ability to observe keenly the things men do. To me, that’s all about humanity.”
A cast of eleven will bring to life Illyria‘s characters, based loosely on Shakespeare’s but reconceived by Walker and Hébert to tease out truths for today: Frank Britton (Feste), Katie Gallagher (Toby), Emma Loughran Hébert (Maria), Christopher Henley (Malvolio), Miss Kitty LeLynx (Fabian), Adam Lemos (Antonio), Montana Monardes (Sebastian), Jenna Rossman (Andrew), Matthew Sparacino (Orsino), Dani Stoller (Olivia), and Ezra Tozian (Viola/Cesario).
“When I’m casting,” continued Hébert, “I look for actors with big hearts, big talent, and generosity, so we can build a theatrical community. I want the audience to be moved. I want their hearts to open up, to feel the warmth of love in Illyria washing over them as something they can take out into the world and into their lives. I want them to fall in love with these people. Because I have, we all have. We love them. We really do.”
Illyria will feature the driving beats and dingy glamor of the post-disco era, with music composed by Aaron Bliden and set design by Jos. B. Musumeci Jr., costume design by Kristen P Ahern, and lighting design by John D. Alexander. The creative team also includes choreographer Emma Loughran Hébert and intimacy director Claudia Rosales Waters.
“All of us at Avant Bard are incredibly excited about the fresh take on a classic that Jonelle Walker and Mitchell Hébert have created,” said Artistic and Executive Director Tom Prewitt. “Jonelle’s TAME., a feminist revisioning of The Taming of the Shrew, opened our season two years ago and went on to garner a Helen Hayes nomination. Mitch, recipient of Helen Hayes Awards for both acting and directing, teaches at the University of Maryland, and half the Illyria cast and creative team are young talents he worked with there.
“The energy in Club Illyria is going to rock the house. We urge folks to secure their place on the rope line right away.”
For cast and creative team bios, see “Who’s Who in ILLYRIA.”
Illyria, or What You Will begins previews October 18, 2018, and runs through November 18. Performances are at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206. Tickets are available online or by calling 703-418-4808. Advance-purchase Pay What You Will tickets are also now available online for previews, and will be on sale online for all other performances beginning the Monday before.