A ripping good time!
|Filter Theatre i/a/w the Royal Shakespeare Company presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
About midway through Filter Theatre’s wildly raucous take on Twelfth Night, more than half the audience snakes on stage in a conga line. The dance is accompanied by a live band set on blast and a storm of styrofoam balls that cast and audience alike hurl at each other with the abandon of a six-year-old hopped up on an all-you-can-eat birthday buffet comprised of nothing but Red Bull and No-Doze laced Pixie Stix. And just when you’re sure things couldn’t possibly get any wilder, a pizza delivery guy shows up.
By the time the puritanical buzz-killer Malvolio (Fergus O’Donnell) shuts the party down, there’s red sauce in the aisles and errant glops of sweaty cheese underfoot on stage. We’ve seen Twelfth Night at least half a dozen times over the past decade, but never with the energy and full-throttle hedonism that director Sean Holmes brings to Chicago Shakespeare’s presentation of the U.K. production.
Does Filter’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s so-called problem play work for 100 percent of its abridged 90-minute re-imagining? No. There are significant problems here, beyond the built-in problem: Twelfth Night is neither comedy nor tragedy but an uneasy hybrid of the two. One moment it’s all red clown noses and groaning puns. The next, it’s a grim-faced lady in black ruminating on suicide. Figuring out a cohesive tone for Twelfth Night can be difficult. Deciding whether it ends in sorrow or happily-ever-after is next to impossible.
That said, Filter’s frenzied Twelfth Night is inarguably worth both your time and the cost of a ticket. The biggest problem here is the short run: You only have through March 13 to see it. Plan accordingly.
Shakespeare’s plot starts with Viola (Amy Marchant), a young woman shipwrecked in Ilyria. Her twin brother Sebastian (also Marchant) has drowned (or so she thinks). Alone and penniless, Viola disguises herself as a boy (Gentlemen of the audience should be prepared to part with their coats) named Cesario and goes to work for the Duke Orsino (Harry Jardine). Orsino is in love with the Lady Olivia (Ronke Adekoluejo). Olivia loves no one but her dead brother.
But while the Lady Olivia is in maudlin mourning, her household below stairs is a frat party, were frat parties hosted by really intelligent women rather than sponge-brained bros. Partier-in-chief is Maria (Sandy Foster), whipsmart counterpart to the drunken potato head Sir Toby Belch (Dan Pool), the clown Feste (Foster) and flush-faced sot Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jardine).
While Maria and cohorts make merry, the malevolent Malvolio (O’Donnell) struts about throwing wet blankets of sanctimony in every direction. Maria and pals concoct a plan to bring the preening, holier-than-thou Malvolio down by making him believe Olivia is in love with him. Olivia, meanwhile, falls in love with Violia-as-Cesario, Viola falls in love with Orsino, and Sebastian turns out not to be dead after all.
If you have trouble following the details, shrug it off. Even those well versed in the play might fall behind in the final scene, when Marchant plays Cesario, Viola and Viola’s twin brother without so much as changing her posture. If you don’t know better, you’ll be left thinking Viola entered into a polyamory deal with Olivia and Orsino. No matter.
What makes Twelfth Night such a ripping good time on the whole is the cast’s antic energy level, the sound party the band (Fred Thomas, Alan Pagan, Tom Haines, Ross Hughes, Christie DuBois and the cast all play instruments and computers) brings to the stage and the performances Holmes gets from his actors.
The star turns out to be O’Donnell’s persecuted Malvolio, a dark horse for the first half of the production who takes over post-pizza party with a scene that doesn’t just bring down the house, it crushes it into confetti-sized smithereens blown in on gusts of nitrous.
In proving his love for Olivia, Malvolio strips down to a disco-ball shiny micro-briefs and shakes his moneymaker like its on clearance and the rent is due at midnight. He winds up in classic 1972 Burt Reynolds centerfold pose (Go ahead and Google it kids. I’ll wait.) that’ll leave you with an after-image you will never fully unsee.
As the aptly named Sir Belch, Poole shows a huge capacity for comedy, literally (he’s 6’7 if he’s an inch) and figuratively (his timing is killer.) As Feste and Maria, Sandy Foster brings an anarchic punk edge to Shakespeare, singing and dancing with a manic,, herky-jerky vengeance that makes her seem like the long-lost love child of Johnny Rotten. Marchant’s Viola has a vulnerability that makes you root for her throughout. Jardine makes Orsino and Aguecheek ringmasters of sorts, leading that crackerjack band and providing something of an eye to the production’s hurricane of shenanigans. Adekoluejo’s Olivia has the regal dignity the part calls for – except for one misguided scene that has her thrashing around on the ground with an electric bass.
Olivia’s sexytimes with the bass is one of several spots where Twelfth Night falters. The slapstick is overlong, and more than a few of the comic bits feel like they’ll never reach the punchline or payoff. By the 25th or so refrain of “come kiss me sweet and twenty” the windup to that conga line feels repetitive and interminable. The music, too, could be trimmed. It’s abundantly clear the cast has wholly committed to playing on “the food of love.” But it enters the land of sonic overkill repeatedly. Less would be more here.
That said, Filter Theatre has created an abundantly joyous party of a production with Twelfth Night. Poor Malvolio is left out in the cold to be sure, but for everybody else, this is a shindig you don’t want to miss.
Twelfth Night continues through March 13th at Chicago Shakespeare 800 E. Grand (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays 1:30pm & 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 6pm. Tickets are $48, and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoShakes.com. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Mark Gavin
Ronke Adekoluejo (Olivia), Sandy Foster (Feste, Maria), Amy Marchant (Viola, Sebastian), Fergus O’Donnell (Malvolio), Dan Poole (Sir Toby Belch), Harry Jardine (Duke Orsino), Fred Thomas (Musician), Alan Pagan (Musician, Drummer)
behind the scenes
Sean Holmes (director), Oliver Dimsdale (associate director, Filter Theatre Artistic Director), Ferdy Roberts (associate director, Filter Theatre Artistic Director), Christie DuBois (company stage manager), Tom Smith for Pemberley Productions (US tour stage manager), Tom Haines, Ross Hughes (music and sound), Martin Shippen (marketing), Simon Read (producer), Mark Gavin (photographer)