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  •  REVIEW: TWELFTH NIGHT

    Twelfth Night

    The Season's First Twelfth

    The first of several "Twelfth Nights" this season, Cat Parker's staging includes cyberpunk bells and whistles and features our critic's favorite Malvolio yet.

    By ELIZABETH BACHNER
    Offoffoff.com

    Autumn in New York apparently spells the thrill of Twelfth Nighting — there are three productions of Shakespeare's gender-bending romp premiering in the city this fall, all of them directed by women. One is a new staging of Peter Mills's musical adaptation, "Illyria." Another is an all-female production by the Queens Company. T. Schreiber's production, directed by Cat Parker, uses a steampunk aesthetic, based on the fantasy subgenre that thrived in the early nineties; think quasi-Victorian fashion mixed with leather pants, tattoos, Clockwork Orange face paint or motorcycle boots, vintage typewriters and broken clocks.

      
    TWELFTH NIGHT
    Written by: William Shakespeare.
    Directed by: Cat Parker.
    Cast: Loren Bidner, Sterling Coyne, Joshua Jackson Day, Justin Delasko, Bhavna de Montebello, Michael Derensis, Julian Elfer, Will Ellis, Paten Hughes, Shane Colt Jerome, Collin McGhee, Armando Merlo, Mari Minges, Andrea Marie Smith, Matt Steiner, Therese Tucker, Jacqueline Van Biene.
    Music by: Cloud Cult.
    Sound design by: Chris Rummels.
    Set design by: George Allison.
    Costumes by: Karen Ann Ledger.
    Lighting design by: Paul Hackenmueller.

    Related links: Official site
    Shakespeare's script can be read as a fun, frothy romp, or as a much darker, more intense study of the political, personal and romantic hazards of cluelessness. T. Schreiber's version has the advantage of clarity: every actor understands the language, and the complexity of themes it carries. This production is wickedly funny, deeply entertaining and unusually lucid. The wide-eyed Viola (Jacqueline van Biene) shows us the full range of agony, ecstasy and exasperation that come with falling in love. Feste (Matt Steiner), a Merlin character who reads "Magic for Dummies" as Act 1 begins, challenges the characters to reckon with themselves.

    Twelfth Night  
    Of the half-dozen Malvolios I've seen, Julian Elfer's is the best. In his mistaken discovery that Olivia is in love with him, he has a heart-wrenching and hilarious breakdown, with his ambition, snobbery, delusion and desperation bubbling up within, as if he's hoisting himself with his own petard and skinning himself, all at the same time. There's a crowded set with a video-screen backdrop, and this scene of Malvolio's is also a highlight of the set design. After he learns that his mistress adores his smile, his strained grimace is projected in close-up as the intermission begins. The ending of this Twelfth Night doesn't quite live up to the rest of the production. The characters are necessarily cramped together into the tiny space of the stage, and the ending is a bit anticlimactic. Viola and Orsino kiss, and Viola takes off her hat, but there isn't the wonderful teen-movie-style transformation of Orsino's best guy friend into a beautiful girl that some productions feature. On the other hand, this version delivers great satisfaction in scenes like the fistfight duel between terrified opponents, and Orsino's use of his own oil painting (a skill culled from "Oil Painting for Dummies") as a "jewel" to bring to Olivia.

      
      Of the half-dozen Malvolios I've seen, Julian Elfer's is the best. In his mistaken discovery that Olivia is in love with him, he has a heart-wrenching and hilarious breakdown, with his ambition, snobbery, delusion and desperation bubbling up within, as if he's hoisting himself with his own petard and skinning himself, all at the same time.
      
    The steampunk idea falls more into the category of a fun romp than an exploration of Shakespeare's darkly thrilling layers of meaning. Parker might have had some deeper thematic rationale for developing it, but her reasons didn't come through the way that, say, the National Theatre's choice to use 1930s style in their production of Richard III did. The costumes are pretty, and I'm in favor of anything that gets eye-candy actors (Shane Colt Jerome's Orsino, Collin McGee's Sebastian) into good boots or leather pants. It's a nice-looking staging, and then there's the music by Indie group Cloud Cult, which also didn't take on any particular deeper meaning for me.

    This is a classic production rather than an innovative one, and I don't mean that as a complaint. Shakespeare's terrific script and story have enduring appeal. With multiple productions of the play most years, for centuries, it can be tempting for directors to try to modernize the material. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Staying true to the broad appeal of this still-fun play is more important than making a dramatic, edgy statement. "Twelfth Night" still makes for a great night at the theater, and this production had me entertained.

    OCTOBER 24, 2008
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Twelfth Night:

  • Julian Elfer   from Denise, Nov 6, 2008
  • HATS OFF !!!   from THOMAS, Nov 6, 2008

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