Morgan-Russell tackles the Bard

Dr. Simon Morgan-Russell will play the role of Malvolio.

Dr. Simon Morgan-Russell will play the role of Malvolio.

Dr. Simon Morgan-Russell is the Dean of the Honors College and a Shakespeare expert who is putting his knowledge to use in the upcoming production of “Twelfth Night.”

Morgan-Russell has been interested in Shakespeare since he was a teenager, but he never set out to be a specialist.

“Twelfth Night” was the first Shakespeare play Morgan-Russell ever saw while he was on a school field trip in London when he was 15, and it is something he teaches in all of his classes.

“Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s comedies and focuses on a love triangle between Viola, a woman posing as a man, the Duke she works for, and the Queen the Duke is in love with. The rest of the cast is made up of the Queen’s servants.

His particular role in “Twelfth Night,” Malvolio, a sour, straight-laced servant to Lady Olivia, also means a lot to him. Morgan-Russell said this role is one of his favorites from Shakespeare literature, and he’s never had the opportunity to put on this play before.

More specifically about Malvolio, Morgan-Russell said that “he goes through a real particular trajectory. He’s not a particularly nice man. In fact, he’s pretty unpleasant, especially to the people who are underneath him in the hierarchy. And of course, people decide to take their revenge on him and allow him to imagine that his dreams are going to come true, so there’s a great opportunity to do a lot of physical comedy, too, which is fun.”

Morgan-Russell also uses Malvolio as a teaching opportunity.

“I always talk about him when I teach it because, you know, he has a very sad end and at some point, you kind of wonder whether the joke on him goes too far. So, I always ask my students to think about that when I teach it,” he said.

Because Morgan-Russell teaches the play every year, he did not have to do a lot of research on Shakespeare or Malvolio to get ready to perform.

One concern Morgan-Russell always tackles when teaching “Twelfth Night” is “How I am going to do this so that it isn’t just a replicate, how I can put my own twist on it.”

Morgan-Russell also talked about what he hopes the audience gets from the performance of “Twelfth Night.”

“‘Twelfth Night’ can be seen as really marking a shift between Shakespeare’s light comedies and some of his darker material later on,” he said. “So, it’s funny, but there’s also a certain amount of sadness involved as well. I hope that the audience laughs a lot. There’s a lot of very funny comedy, a lot of physical comedy, great witty comedy. We’ve worked a lot to try to make this play funny. But there’s also a lot of sadness, too. There’s a lot of people who don’t get what they want and are sort of left hanging. Above all, the play is about human beings.”

“Twelfth Night” is being performed April 20-23 and tickets are sold for $15.