With no plot to get in the way of the story, Twelfth Night is William Shakespeare's comic equivalent of a modern soap opera.
Incorporating love, lust, loss, mistaken identity and political machinations into a frothy comic stew, Shakespeare's play doesn't tell a story as much as it lets a variety of richly drawn characters bounce off one another in pursuit of individual goals.
The Augusta Theatre Company's production, its firstin the Bon Air Hotel ballroom, runs through Oct. 7.
The production has offered challenges, not the least of which was trying to build a theater in a ballroom while rehearsing Shakespeare.
"If people come and expect to walk into a fully equipped theater, they are going to be disappointed," said James Worth, the troupe's director. "However, if they expect to walk into a space that has huge potential, that they can be part of from the very beginning, then good, because that's what we are doing."
Using an intimate thrust-stage format, the theater brings the to the very edge of the stage, with the farthest seats just three rows from the actors. Mr. Worth said this allows for a kind of interaction between actor and audience rarely found in traditional productions.
"I can't think of any better theater," he said. "I want to see the guy sweat. It will be interesting because I think most of these actors have no idea what this will be like. There is no barrier in this kind of theater."
Mr. Worth said he thinks the intimacy will help the cast develop as actors and provide richer, fuller performances - essential with a large ensemble cast like Twelfth Night's.
To further accentuate the characters, Mr. Worth also is experimenting with costuming, fitting each character in garb from a variety of periods and regions. These range from regal Eastern robes to Edwardian formal wear to a matching blue-hair-and-Hawaiian-shirt ensemble.
"I think James is really trying to find the fun in this," said Dana Hughes, who plays the dual role of Viola/Cesario. "There are a lot of people who approach Shakespeare in a very serious-minded way. I think the ones who do it best, though, approach it as it was intended, as boisterous and bawdy."
Mr. Worth said that he chose to produce Twelfth Night for its accessibility, its ensemble approach and the universality of its themes.
"That's the beauty of Shakespeare," said Vishal Arora, who plays the romantically confused Duke Orsino. "This is a play that is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago, and it will still be relevant in another 500 years."
What: Twelfth Night
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 7
Where: The Bon Air Hotel ballroom, 2101 Walton Way
Admission: $15 adults, $10 students and seniors
Phone: 481-9040, or log on to www.augustatheatre.com.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.