Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twelfth Night (The Queen's Company)

The cast of Twelfth Night. Photo by John Santerre.

BOTTOM LINE: Who says there's no lip-syncing in Shakespeare?

In The Queen's Company's bold production of Twelfth Night, pop hits underscore classic Shakespearean mishaps. Like 90% of Shakespeare's classical comedies, there's a woman and she's in drag...and like 100% of The Queen's Company's productions everyone's a woman and so nearly everyone's in drag. The company's cross-gender work is really remarkable. The women in no way exaggerate or ridicule the male gender, but rather play each character with comment on the reversed sexuality - a feat which is, I'd imagine, a huge challenge to the actresses as well as a huge relief to the audience.

As for the show itself, there are a lot of fun, bold choices being made by both the director and cast. The lip-syncing, of course, tops both the show and the list. Now, I'm all about mixing modern trappings into classical plays, and God knows the finale (which I won't reveal) is a blast, but what's weird to me is that in a show with countless songs written into the script and whose first line is "If music be the food of love, play on," the big, fun musical numbers aren't more integrated into the show. I can only remember three songs, two of which came close to each other in the first act. This good idea half-executed makes the music more of a distraction than anything else.

This happens visually, too, with the design of the set. Again, big, interesting choices- red floor, blue lattice work walls - which could say a lot and be used in beautiful ways - end up as distracting boldness rather than supporting the story.

There are a few gem performances, though. Aysan Celik, who plays Malvolio with Alan Rickman-like snideness, is wonderful to watch, and Carey Urban, whose school-girl demeanor as Olivia, lights up the stage in what can very easily be an unsympathetic part.

Overall, I'd say you'd have to have at least a passing interest in Shakespeare to enjoy this show (in the moments when the ideas aren't followed through, there's not a lot going on) but I came out of the theater with a smile on my face, having had a lovely time in Illyria.

(The Queen's Company's Twelfth Night plays at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Performances run until November 23rd, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3pm, with additional shows November 15th and November 22nd at 2pm. Tickets are $18...buy them at smarttix.com or by calling 212.868.4444. For more info visit QueensCompany.org.)

No comments: