Front row: Ethan Casey, Kaylee Nedrow. Back row, left to right: Robert Gaudio, Alexander Hill, Mario Muscar, Leif Green.

The Bard Returns to the Towngate Stage

Mischief, mistaken identity, love, and joyful revelation abound at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre during its upcoming production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night.” This production marks the return of the Bard to Towngate’s mainstage season for the first time in more than four decades. Shows take place May 3, 4, 5, 10, and 11.

Director Dennis Fox promises audiences laughter and merriment. “‘Twelfth Night’ may be the most joyous and problem-free romp in the Shakespeare canon. Everyone loves comedy and I guarantee the audience will not be disappointed in that respect.”

Fox says “Twelfth Night” is as relevant today as when the play was written—more than 400 years ago—because of the universal themes explored in the play. “The main theme of ‘Twelfth Night’ is how the pursuit of love can be confusing, irrational, excessive, and, most importantly, funny. Everyone in ‘Twelfth Night’ is seeking pleasure and fulfillment. Many of today’s comedies are based on the very same pursuit of love, so audiences will find ‘Twelfth Night’ completely familiar.”

Jana Schodzinski, Karissa Martin, Hayden Heiserman, Bert Hawthorne, Lynea Logan.

Despite the way Shakespeare may feel, his work clearly stands the test of time, as hundreds of years later he still has a legion of fans. When auditions for “Twelfth Night” were held, dozens of community actors showed up hoping to secure a role in the production.  “I think Towngate had a large turnout for ‘Twelfth Night’ auditions for several reasons. First, it has been 47 years since the last production—opportunities to experience Shakespeare locally are rare. Second, Shakespeare is a great challenge for actors; many who auditioned are longtime Towngate veterans. Third, ‘Twelfth Night’ is probably Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedy and one of his most produced plays.”

The last time Towngate put on a mainstage production of Shakespeare was a 1977 production of “Macbeth.” It starred the titan of Towngate, Hal O’Leary, as the title character, and Kate Crosby as the Lady. It also features a Towngate-stage debut from Denis Fox. “There is no one specific reason why it has been 47 years since, but I suspect that the added difficulties of staging Shakespeare are part of the reason,” Fox explained. The two shows could not be totally further apart. “Macbeth” is a heavy tragedy about power and politics, while “Twelfth Night” is a comedic romp, with hijinks, and a joke about ugly socks. 

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1977: Hal O’Leary and Kate Crosby in Macbeth, the last Shakespeare show on Towngate’s Mainstage.

The play centers on twins Viola and Sebastian. Separated in a shipwreck off the coast of an unfamiliar land, each believes the other to be dead. Viola disguises herself as a man to find employment but unintentionally catches the eye of Olivia, the beloved of her new employer, Duke Orsino. To make matters worse, Viola has fallen for the Duke. When Sebastian arrives on the scene, he is mistaken for his sister, the disguised Viola. Illusion, confusion, and hijinks ensue.

For many, Shakespeare’s works, even his comedies, may seem intimidating. Fox has been mindful of that when bringing this production to life. He believes Shakespeare enthusiasts, as well as those who are less familiar with his work, will have an enjoyable theatrical experience. “Because many people do fear Shakespeare in performance, my directorial approach has been to make this production as accessible as possible, to everyone. Shakespeare’s real genius lies in the creation of his characters, and his incredible understanding of human nature. With that in mind, my focus has been on the characters and how they develop and interact with each other.” He added, “In staging ‘Twelfth Night’ I have tried to create an atmosphere that mimics how the play might have been performed in Shakespeare’s time—focusing on the spectacle of the costumes more than the scenery.” 

Cast members for the production are Kaylee Nedrow (Viola), Hayden Heiserman (Orsino), Karissa Martin (Olivia), Ethan Casey (Sebastian), Frank Wilson (Malvolio), Leif Green (Feste), Mario Muscar (Toby), Chelsey Barnes (Maria), Alexander Hill (Andrew), Ed Street (Antonio), Robert Gaudio (Captain, Fabian), Lynea Logan (Valentine, 2nd Officer), Bert Hawthorne (Curio), Jon Coffield (1st Officer), P.D. Gregg (Priest), Jana Schodzinski (Servant).

Curtain for Towngate’s production of “Twelfth Night” is at 8 p.m. May 3, 4, 10 and 11 and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 304-242-7700. Tickets can also be purchased at the door, if available. The box office opens one hour prior to curtain. The Friends of Towngate will host a fundraising dinner at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 5, following the matinee performance of “Twelfth Night.” You can purchase tickets for the dinner with your show ticket. Advanced reservations are required. Seating is limited. All proceeds support Towngate Theatre.


• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.