|Susannah Millonzi, Andrus Nichols, Eric Tucker,|
Edmund Lewis, and Tom O'Keefe in 12N. Photo source.
& What You Will (or twelfth night)
Seen on: Thursday, 3/26/15 and Friday, 3/27/15.
My grade: 12N: B-. WYW: B+.
Plot and BackgroundTwins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a sea wreck, and presume the other is dead. Washed ashore in Illyria, Viola disguises herself as a young man and goes to work for the Duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. He sends her to woo Olivia, who in her mourning will receive no petitioners. She, of course, falls in love with "Cesario" and hijinks ensue. Meanwhile, Olivia's cousin Sir Toby and his cohorts run afoul of Olivia's steward Malvolio, and set out to humiliate him. Hijinks, etc. And then Sebastian appears and confuses everyone, including himself. Twelfth Night is believed to have been written in 1601 or 1602 by William Shakespeare. Bedlam here presents two different cuttings of the text with two very different styles (and genderings of roles).
What I Knew BeforehandI knew the source play, of course, having seen it countless times (including the quite good film version with Imogen Stubbs and the near-perfect Globe transplant with Mark Rylance). I also knew, having seen their productions of Saint Joan, Hamlet, and Sense and Sensibility, that Bedlam produces some breathtakingly honest work, with a good spirit of play to it.
Play: I saw WYW first, so I think that's how I'm going to structure this section. First impressions and all that.
WYW is a joyful, giddy flight in white (see design notes). Even as it starts with a tear-stained Viola mourning her brother's death, and Orsino obsessively listening to music to sooth his wounded heart, a sense of joy and play permeate this production. There's a bit of text flexibility here - not only shifting pronouns to reflect a woman playing Sir Toby, but a shuffling of lines to speakers (when, say, minor characters have been excised from the play altogether), a shuffling of soliloquies within scenes - nothing feels particularly foolhardy or unearned, because it's still in service of the story. They've also added an interesting duality to the performance of Viola/Cesario. While Susannah Millonzi carries all of Viola's role, she more often than not shares Cesario's interactions with Tom O'Keefe - performing Cesario as the others perceive him. This pays off extremely well, of course, when O'Keefe appears later as her missing brother Sebastian. For, even if O'Keefe and Millonzi look nothing alike, of course Sebastian and Cesario look the same! Why, they could be twins! Other fun highlights include ice cream cones as pacifiers (you'll see what I mean). There was one choice I couldn't quite reckon, which was the use of paint. The show takes place in a white-painted void, and all the characters are wearing white clothing. So when the first character suddenly has bright paint smeared across him, my first instinct was to read into that paint, some - what? introduction of emotion, perhaps, or a new immersion in love. However, the moment that actor - not changing his costume - switches to a different character, the entire meaning of that paint smear is lost. It can't mean the same for every character he's playing, and thus the specificity of the painting is lost. Unless the real intent of the paint is just to messy up what was a pristine world. If that's the case, it's still a bit of a murky choice, but I guess I can understand the rationale.
If WYW is the first few giddy sips of champagne, a world semi-consequence-free, 12N is three or four cups of gin into a night of melancholy drinking. Here Toby is a mean and dour drunk, Andrew a soused and compliant fool (rather than the primping dandy of WYW), and Olivia is still deeply in mourning for her brother. The change in Malvolio's character (see cast notes) may have had one of the larger tonal effects, however. The subplot of the gulling and humiliation of Malvolio is typically one of the comic highlights of the show, despite its nastiness. But with this Malvolio, a man less mean than merely proper, Toby's cruelty is thrown into sharper relief, and the whole thing is just nastier. It's harder to side with anyone in that particular conflict, and you long for it to be over. For all that 12N is a more serious take on the matter, it does descend into its own brand of chaos and absurdity - turning the would-be duel between Andrew and Cesario into a puppet show, or the scene with All the Reveals into a frantic game of hat-changing and glasses-tossing. Unfortunately, this production ultimately didn't work for me. The tone in general felt off, the comedy felt forced whereas in WYW it flowed easily. And there was something weak in the love triangle and the portrayal of Viola's conflict.