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  •  REVIEW: TWELFTH NIGHT

    Valerie Redd, Carey Urban, Kari Nicole Washington, Gisele Richardson and Karen Berthel in Twelfth Night
    Photo by John Santerre
    Valerie Redd, Carey Urban, Kari Nicole Washington, Gisele Richardson and Karen Berthel

    Second Twelfth

    The second of three female-helmed "Twelfth Night"'s, this one with an all-female cast, fails to put a fresh spin on Shakespeare's gender-bending comedy.

    By ELIZABETH BACHNER
    Offoffoff.com

    Sometimes it's hard to remember that all of the great classical and Elizabethan plays were initially performed only by single-sex casts. Hecuba, Phaedra and Clytemnestra as boys? Ophelia, Juliet and Cressida as boys? It seems really weird today, but at the same time it highlights Shakespeare's enormous cleverness. "Twelfth Night" is a classic gender-bending play, and because it's so meta, with so many twisty in-jokes (there's even a reference to Cressida in the last act), it almost makes more sense for it to be performed in drag. The Queen's Company's all-female production tries to pull out all the stops when it comes to the parodies of masculinity and femininity that are so subversive in Shakespeare's original script. It also trots out extra-scriptural bells and whistles, like lots of pop-song lip-syncing.

      
    TWELFTH NIGHT
    Company: Queen's Company.
    Directed by: Rebecca Patterson.
    Cast: Dionne Audain, Virginia Baeta, Karen Berthel, Aysan Celik, Amy Driesler, Meredith Forlenza, Natalie Lebert, Gisele Richardson, Indika Senanayake, Carey Urban and Kari Washington.
    Sound design by: Jane Shaw.
    Set design by: Kip Marsh.
    Costumes by: Jeanette Aultz Look.
    Lighting design by: Raquel Davis.
    Production stage manager: Annalee Fannan.
    Fight Director: Amanda McCroskery.

    Related links: Official site
     SCHEDULE
    Urban Stages
    259 West 30th St.
    Nov. 8-23, 2008

    This is one of three woman-directed productions of "Twelfth Night" in New York City this fall — the others are T. Schreiber's steampunk version, and a musical called Illyria. I haven't seen the musical yet, but it's impossible not to compare the other two productions.

    T. Schreiber's "Twelfth Night," steampunk or not, highlighted the wonderfully vibrant universality of Shakespeare's script, and brought out the childlike (or maybe teenage) spirit of the central love stories. The Queen's Company production gets more critical and exploratory with the subject matter — the hottest love affair here is between Sebastian and his buddy Antonio, who wake up together looking very post-coital. Action between the other lovers or future lovers is more bloodless. Sir Toby Belch (Gisele Richardson) is a full-on, late-stage alcoholic, slurring his words and stumbling around on thick ankles. Like a girl choosing between suitors, I can't help but pick a favorite. I preferred the T. Schreiber "Twelfth Night," because I got so wrapped up in the story that I forgot I was watching a play, a treat that happens often at the movies but rarely in Off-Off-Broadway Shakespeare. In that production, Jacqueline Van Biene as Viola was extraordinary in capturing the delight and frustration of her thwarted crush while in drag. A side effect of choosing between suitors is that sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone. I initially thought that the T. Schreiber production was delightful but not innovative, but watching another production the same season made me notice the innovations of the first — when this Orsino sent a "jewel" to Olivia via Viola, I was disappointed to see him hand her a chunky ring instead of (as in the T. Schreiber) the amateurish painting that he had made himself.

    Natalie Lebert in Twelfth Night  
    Photo by John Santerre  
    Natalie Lebert
      
    The Queen's Company's "Twelfth Night" is also hilarious, but comparatively grizzled. It's much more about punchlines than fresh spins on the love stories. Much of the humor comes from outside the original script, although of course it follows along thematically. The pop songs and lipsync sessions that punctuate the main action are funny because the songs are funny. It's more of a cheap shot than an attempt at bringing out the devastating wit and nasty bon mots lying ripe in the script, although the company doesn't completely overlook the joyous dialogue. I never did forget that I was watching Off-Off-Broadway Shakespeare although, interestingly, I forgot that I was watching an all-female cast. It's an interesting little show, but there's something bloodless about it. It doesn't explore the theme of love the way the T. Schreiber production does. It skims the surface and, ironically, that makes its examination of gender seem perfunctory and performative rather than radical.

      
      It's an interesting little show, but there's something bloodless about it. It doesn't explore the theme of love the way the T. Schreiber production does. It skims the surface and, ironically, that makes its examination of gender seem perfunctory and performative rather than radical.
      
    I was a bit perplexed by the costumes and set. The Mondrian-esque, sculptural set, with inclined planes in red and blue, have a very cool look, but I couldn't quite figure out how it connected to the traditional costumes, or to the director's vision of Illyria. The costumes are blandly period, but the players are all inexplicably barefoot. I thought, when I first saw them, that they'd be dancing around with wild abandon or engaging in acrobatic tussles, but really there was no reason for them not to all wear boots. Maybe I'm missing something, but the costumes and sets seemed mismatched.

    "Twelfth Night," like "As You Like It," is a natural match for an all-female Shakespeare company. In fact, maybe it's too natural. I'd like to see this troupe tackle "Hamlet" or "Othello" or the "MacBeth" next, exploring the tragedies and paradoxes of gender from a new angle.

    NOVEMBER 18, 2008
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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