Penny Cherns has directed Shakespeare in the Catalan language of Spain.
“I can only speak Catalan Shakespeare,” she says with a laugh. “I can’t ask for bread and butter, but I can say ‘The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements’ — which is terribly useful.”
That line is from “Macbeth,” but the British director has also staged scenes from “Twelfth Night” in Catalan and Spanish, in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Barcelona.
This week’s assignment, then, would seem like a walk in the park: Unveil a full production of “Twelfth Night” — the bard’s story of loss, loss and what they wore — at the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls.
In Shakespeare’s English.
Lest anyone suggest the task too easy, Cherns (a longtime personal friend of Schoolhouse artistic director Pamela Moller Kareman) ups the ante by employing a cast of just nine actors.
Cherns heads the classical acting department at the esteemed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In recent years, Kareman has been planting the idea of having Cherns bring Shakespeare to the tiny Schoolhouse stage for the first time.
“We’ve talked about it for a long time and when I said it could be done with a smaller cast and a bit of ingenuity, then it became a possibility,” Cherns says.
Possibility becomes reality when “Twelfth Night” opens May 24 for a run through June 10.
How does one populate Illyria with nine actors?
“It does make for a rather quick change between Antonio and Malvolio, with (actor) Neal (Mayer) legging it round the back of the stage rather quickly,” Cherns says with a laugh.
“In every Shakespeare play, somebody puts a hood over their head and even their own son doesn’t recognize them, as in ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ So we’re trying to play a bit with that, that we can disguise people sufficiently with just a change of jacket and hat.”
If that requires an active suspension of disbelief, well so, too, does the plot.
“Twelfth Night” involves shipwreck-separated twins Sebastian and Viola. When Viola lands in Illyria, she disguises herself as a page, Cesario, and attaches herself to Duke Orsino. Before long, Orsino sends Cesario to woo Olivia, a lady in mourning, on his behalf. When Olivia falls in love with Cesario and Viola falls in love with Orsino, things get downright complicated. And when Sebastian arrives — and is mistaken for Cesario — another layer of mistaken identity is added.
Cherns has trimmed the play only slightly, promising “quite a snappy play, an hour each side” of the intermission.
And not a word of it in Catalan.
“Twelfth Night” Schoolhouse Theater, 3 Owens Road, Croton Falls. May 24 to June 10. 8 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m., Sundays. $33 on Thursdays and Fridays ; $35 on Saturdays and Sundays. 914-277-8477. www.schoolhousetheater.org. Note: There will be a talkback with director Penny Cherns after the May 27 matinee. With: Jack Berenholtz, Ash Law Edwards, Jonathan Holtzman, Jason Hart, Simon MacLean, Neal Mayer, Nora Menken, Liza Miller and Hannah Logan Wolfe.
Photo courtesy The Schoolhouse Theater: Penny Cherns