The Ohio State Department of Theatre will address addiction, mental illness, art and matricide in its adaptation of “The Coast of Illyria” this weekend.
Set in 19th-century London, the dark comedy examines the struggles of family bonding despite mental health and addiction issues. The play looks at the lives of authors Mary and Charles Lamb after Mary’s return from a mental institution, which she was in for killing their mother, said Jennifer Schlueter, an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Theatre. The play is based on real writers in fictional circumstances.
“It’s about the struggles to stay close as a family while wrestling with mental health and addiction issues. It is more of a dark comedy than a drama,” Schlueter said.
Schlueter worked with undergraduate student Cece Bellomy to adapt the historical fiction play originally penned by Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans.
The adaptation is more compact than the original version of the play and includes more references to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which is set in Illyria.
“We got the assignment to do the adaptation in April of last year and worked together across the summer,” Schlueter said. “The first draft of the adaptation was finished in July, and revisions took place across the fall.”
“The Coast of Illyria” is the last main-stage show for undergraduate seniors in the theater program, and Tom McKinney, a fourth-year in theater, will play the role of English writer George Dyer for his final undergraduate performance.
“It’s sad, this is my sixth main-stage production, and I have been in them since I was a freshman. I’m glad that I’m moving onto the next step in life, but it’s sad because I’m leaving all of the people I’ve gotten to know,” McKinney said.
He said actors were encouraged by their director, theater associate professor Shilarna Stokes, to read literature written by their characters during the rehearsal process. Charles and Mary Lamb are most known for their children’s book titled “Tales from Shakespeare,” as well as for their essays and poetry. George Dyer’s writings focused on poverty and political reform.
“I spent a lot of time reading my character’s writings,” McKinney said. “His poems about the poor in England and how to revamp society justify why I’m acting the way I’m acting.”
The play features MFA students in addition to undergraduates. Mary and Charles Lamb are played by MFA students Ambre Shoneff and Zack Meyer, and the role of poet S.T. Coleridge is played by Benito Lara, all who are a part of the same MFA cohort.
“It’s fascinating to work with the MFA students. They’ve been out in the field longer, and it is fun to see what they bring to the table and how we can learn from it,” McKinney said.
“The Coast of Illyria” is set to be performed in the Drake Performance and Event Center’s Thurber Theatre from tonight to April 21. Performances are set to be at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and Sunday shows are at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for general public and $15 for students and children. They are available on Ticketmaster and through the OSU theater box office.
“It’s entertaining, and it’s got very funny moments and very touching human moments,” McKinney said. “It really shows what it takes to balance family and friends while keeping track of your own life.”