Bhavesh Patel has had a busy year, appearing on Broadway, performing in Shakespeare in the Park and now taking on the role of Orsino in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night, directed by area-favorite Ethan McSweeny.
Over the past 14 years, the Indian-American actor has performed in dozens of shows in New York, but is probably best known for playing opposite Kevin Kline playing Rowland in this year’s four-month engagement of Present Laughter on Broadway, and providing a fun, high-energy performance.
“It’s kind of amazing that in that play I was going for hardcore, unattractive clown and now I am playing a romantic lead and the so-called ‘handsome guy’ in this, and that’s very exciting to swing the pendulum both ways,” Patel says.
It was while doing Present Laughter that he booked A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this past summer’s Shakespeare in the Park, and was rehearsing that show in the day while performing on the Great White Way at night.
“I already had Shakespeare on my brain and I got a call from the [Shakespeare Theatre Company’s] casting director saying Ethan wanted me to come in for this part, but I had no time,” Patel says. “I’ve known Ethan for 10-plus years and always wanted to work with him, but I told them my schedule and that if they were still looking in a few weeks, I would love to come in.”
Antoinette is so easy to fall in love with on stage.”
The casting director convinced Patel to come in the next day at lunchtime and read it off the page. So, he ran from rehearsal for a quick 30-minute audition, met with McSweeny and booked the role of Orsino.
“Orsino is such a great part that I think gets messed up a lot,” he says. “He’s the guy who is in love with love. In a lot of ways, he’s in love with the sound of his own voice. In actuality, and I think this is where Ethan and I found a simpatico, is that he’s a man who wants to be in love and wants someone to love him, and that’s something very universal and human. I’m hoping I am creating an Orsino who is both dynamic and passionate, but also relatable.”
Patel is no stranger to the Bard. In addition to A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year, he was also in The Tempest at Lincoln Center, and was part of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.
from November 14 – December 20, 2017
Details and tickets
“Shakespeare is really where I’ve cut my teeth as an actor. I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare, but this is the first time I am performing in Twelfth Night,” he says. “I’ve assistant directed the show at Julliard, but never worked on it myself. It’s one of those plays you see and everyone knows, but as soon as you’re inside of it, the landscape opens up.”
Twelfth Night follows the quick-witted Viola, who, upon being stranded on the coast of Illyria, assumes the disguise of a page boy for Duke Orsino and finds herself at the center of an explosive love triangle in which identity, passion and gender all threaten to come undone.
Patel describes McSweeney’s vision for the production as “a real grounded world and exploding into a magical, fantastical place where anything can happen.”
“It’s been incredible. I think we’re giving a really honest and heartfelt telling of this story,” Patel says. “It’s such a full-bodied production. We start in an airport, and it’s boring and you’re waiting and what happens is we end up traveling to a place that blows the world apart and it’s awesome. It’s a play about how we live our lives and all of these characters are fighting for these primal things that we are connected to.”
STC’s Twelfth Night marks Patel’s D.C. debut, but he’s spent a great deal of time in the area because his wife grew up across the river in Maryland.
“What I’m realizing very quickly is there’s a really vibrant and thriving theater scene here in D.C., and if we ever decided to move here, I could probably still get work,” he said. “Just look at these performers who Ethan has gathered together for this show. They are all so visually alive and really talking to each other.” Local actor Emily Townley is among the cast members.
Patel grew up in a “very small town” in Southern Illinois, and he describes everyone as “over six-foot-tall and plays football” and he just didn’t fit in. Still, in high school he joined the team and just rode the bench.
“A friend of mine thought I was funny and suggested I try out for the play, so I did and got a part and found myself and my group, and it was kind of like a downhill ski slope from there,” he says. “When I went to college, I initially went to be pre-law, but all the while I was taking acting classes and I ended up pursuing both degrees. But instead of going to law school, I ended up auditioning for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and I did this really wonderful Shakespeare-intensive program and loved it.”
When he came back to the states, he already had a job with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival where he performed ten shows in nine months.
From there, he ended up at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree.
As always, Patel is thrilled to be performing in a Shakespearean play and is delighted to be working alongside Antoinette Robinson as his Viola.
“I love the text. Shakespeare has left us all of these clues and all of these questions of who these people can be,” he says. “The text will tell us a lot of things, but what makes it special is the menagerie of people that you are acting with. I can have all these ideas of who I want to be, but until I meet my Viola or Olivia, I won’t know what it is I really want. It’s been kind of fun what Antoinette finds sexy and appealing and my job is how do I truly seduce this woman, who I think is a boy, who I’m drawn to but don’t want to be with. Antoinette is so easy to fall in love with on stage.”