By Elena Stuart
“One-two-three-one-two-three,” echoed the backstage hallway of the Diego Rivera Theater. Following the rhythmic sound of feet moving along with the count toward a flight of stairs and through a heavy black door, one comes upon the auditorium.
Sitting close to the stage, Director John Wilk is observing choreographer Rachel Nip teaching the actors a dance for the opening scene to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” premiering at City College in early March. Throughout his career Wilk directed over 50 plays, 35 of them at City College.
In this “gender bender comedy”, circumstances force a shipwrecked protagonist to disguise herself as a boy who becomes the page to a duke. Much confusion over who is who and who is what, as well as a hilarious love triangle, ensues.
Men were dancing with men, women with women, and women with men during the rehearsal. The director described the diversity and inclusiveness at City College. “We have people from incredible places,” Wilk said, “you look at the class and think oh my God, this is an amazing place.”
Most of the actors in “Twelfth Night” are current or former students. “We now offer a certificate and an Associate Degree in theater,” Wilk added.
The plot permits breaking through the constructs of gender and racial identities to investigate the fluidity of human emotions and the pendulum of sexuality, an aspect that Wilk intends to explore to its fullest.
“Nothing is as it appears,” Wilk said when describing the play’s theme. “I have women playing men, men playing women and then women playing women playing men.”
In front of the director, the stage was filled with actors working hard on their dance choreography. A few hours before rehearsal began one could observe a different kind of effort involved in producing a play. The scenic construction crew, responsible for building the set, drilled and hammered feverishly to assemble walls and add stairs.
Wilk, who has a Ph.D. in theater and a Master in Fine Arts in scenic design, designed the set for “Twelfth Night” to have stairs going in all directions.
“Like an Escher,” he explained. The set, and Wilk’s approach to “Twelfth Night” itself, is a brain teaser. “The play is written, ‘in a country that didn’t exist, in a land that never was’,” Wilk said, “characters get separated and get back together again.”
The play opens March 3 at 7:30 p.m. Additional showtimes are available on March 4, 5, 6, 10 and 11. General admission cost is $15 and students, seniors and Theater Bay Area (TBA) members pay $10. Reservations are not required but tickets are also available online at www.brownpapertickets.com.