Emma Johnson and Lulu Sigouin play twins Viola and Sebastian in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night.’

Emma Johnson and Lulu Sigouin play twins Viola and Sebastian in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night.’ (Jeff McKinnon)

Students in the Santa Ynez High School Theatre Group are rehearsing for its spring production of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night” or “What You Will.” The show’s performances, April 21-23 and 28-30, will feature some 30 student actors and technicians.

Director Jeff McKinnon has a personal and professional history with the play, dating back to fall of 1980 when, as a 21-year-old aspiring actor, he played the role of Sir Toby Belch in a dinner theater production in Benicia, California. That began a long association with the play that included graduate school, and professional regional theater productions in Wisconsin and Illinois.

“I’ve performed in the play six times. My role in 1980 was my first ‘Twelfth Night’ and my first Shakespeare,” McKinnon said.

This will be the second time McKinnon has directed it at Santa Ynez High School (SYVHS), the first being in 2007. “I’ve only got a couple more years of teaching left, so I wanted to make sure I got another chance to do it, and my current group of actors is absolutely outstanding and more than up to the challenge,” he said.

“Twelfth Night,” one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, is about twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated by a shipwreck off the coast of the island of Illyria. Each believes the other has perished.

Mistaken identities predictably ensue, along with some hilarious chaos created by a group of zanies led by Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Countess Olivia’s fool Feste and serving woman Maria, all who scheme to torment Olivia’s pompous manservant Malvolio.

“The play is about finding home, finding love, finding wholeness in a fractured world,” McKinnon said.

Viola, in losing her brother, feels her world has been fractured. The play is her journey back to wholeness, and along the way she encounters some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters.

“Viola is one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations,” McKinnon said. “She can match wits with anyone, is resourceful, and is pragmatic enough to accept her plight with stoicism and good humor.”

“Twelfth Night” shows are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, April 21-23 and 28-30 in the SYVHS Little Theatre, 2975 Hwy. 246. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students, and will be available at the door. For more information, call 688-6487 ext. 2361.