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    12th Night

    Help me make it through the "Night"

    The young Thermodynamic Theater Company aims high but gives a timid performance that undermines Shakespeare's gender-bending romp "12th Night."


    "Twelfth Night" is Shakespeare's most sexually subversive play, full of gender-bending plot twists and erotic undertones. As such, it would seem the perfect inaugural production for a young downtown theater company committed to smart, fun, politically progressive work. There's a risk, though, in producing canonical theatre: when the audience is already familiar with a play, there are a lot of expectations to fulfill.

    12TH NIGHT
    Written by: William Shakespeare.
    Directed by: Kelly Lynn Harrison.
    Cast: Chris Arrunda, Joe Beaudin, Chris Briggs, Erin Brindley, J.C. Devore, David Hatkoff, Kate Hess, Brian MacInnis, Lisa Raymond, Amy Rhodes, Lee Rosen and Justin Steeve.
    Kraine Theater
    85 East 4th St. near 2nd Ave.
    Nov. 30 - Dec. 16, 2001

    Thermodynamic Theater Company set its "modern Christmas production" of Shakespeare's comedy in contemporary New England, and aims to explore the queer aspects of the plot to their full potential while preserving and respecting the text. Promising on paper, this approach seems to have de-fanged the actors to some extent. Lashing the outlandish story to a familiar setting results in some clever moments but ultimately too casual a pace and conversational a tone. The actors chuckle, but never laugh, woo but fail to swoon, raise their voices but rarely yell. They are nervous rather than afraid, sad rather than anguished, and annoyed rather than enraged. Swordplay in the text becomes fisticuffs here, so there is never any mortal danger. When Malvolio (Lee Rosen) is imprisoned, the action is now set in Olivia's basement and there is a muddy suggestion of an S&M dungeon. Other than providing a glimpse of Rosen's gym-boy physique, though, the scene fails to titillate, and there is little done to complement the extreme drama and dark humor of the situation.

    There are some impressive performances here, notably J.C. Devore whose mourning Sebastian is both charming and sexy and Joe Beaudin whose unrepentant clowning as (Sir) Andrew (Aguecheek) is a welcome relief from the too-polite tone of most of the action. Brian MacInnis (Valentine) and Justin Steeve (Antonio) capture the kind of homoerotic sweetness I suspect the production was aiming to achieve more often. Others fare less well. While Feste is often interpreted as a bitter fool, Amy Rhodes has recast the role as a sort of homeless teenage girl who plays cassettes instead of singing and delivers the majority of her lines with an indifferent sarcasm in place of biting wit. Christopher Briggs is strangely withdrawn and timid as (Sir) Toby (Belch).

    Kelli Lynn Harrison's mostly static staging fails to do much to help the actors other than keep them from running into each other. The stage combat is clumsily executed and contributes to the impression that the entire production is too SAFE. The actors are too polite to each other, to the text and to the audience. For a production that ostensibly focuses on sex, it is a surprisingly chaste interpretation of a very sexual play. Again, this is largely the result of timidity and misguided politeness. These are gifted, charismatic performers for the most part and someone should have given them more permission to take up some space and swing their hips. Instead, the overall impression is too often that of unusually talented high-school students performing in a church basement.

    Thermodynamic clearly intended this to be a holiday celebration of an inauguration. In a surprisingly touching final moment, Feste says to the audience, "We'll strive to please you every day" — one imagines this being a sort of Christmas toast from a new theater company to its audience. The intelligence and enthusiasm of the company are obvious and one can't help but hope that with increased confidence and greater resources at their disposal they will rediscover the energy and excitement of last year's "Spooky Dog Mysteries." The next time these kids throw a party, let's hope they let loose and make some noise.

    DECEMBER 10, 2001

    Reader comments on 12th Night:

  • review   from George Blackburn, Apr 17, 2002
  • olivia   from andy downes, Feb 2, 2003
  • 12th Night   from Warren Sanders, Nov 24, 2004

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