Thursday, May 13, 2010

Twelfth Night or What You Should Go See

Dennis Yen (Man of a Thousand Characters), Bryan Quinn (Out in Illyria), Seth Thygesen (Green Lantern), and Maria Giere (as Cesario or Tim Lincecum?)

I seem to make a habit out of seeing and writing about Impact's classic every year. First there was 'Tis Pitty She's a Whore, and then last year's Midsummer Night's Dream. This year their classic is Twelfth Night.

I love that play, which is both an upside and a downside when seeing a production of it. I even directed it back when I was in college and thought I knew a lot but really didn't. All of this means, I have strong opinions about it.

They've set it in modern Hollywood, which works but doesn't quite fire on all cylinders the way the 1980's Midsummer did. I'm not sure why. Either the themes didn't quite connect, or the play's strong references to the specific location of Illyria made it hard to translate into another specific location. Not that they tried to physically put it in Hollywood but more played with idea of Hollywood as a culture. Still, Hollywood is also a place. In any case, the setting made for some really fun moments as well as some cumbersome ones.

The genius of Melissa Hillman's Shakespeare productions is always allowing the text to be mutable and giving the actors permission to occasionally improvise in modern language. Somehow she always finds the right balance where it stays funny without getting in the way of the Bard. (The highlight being Dennis Yen's multiple character tirade.) This also keeps your ears trained and receptive to both Shakespeare's words and our own, which not only keeps it accessible, but allows her use of modern songs in place of Feste's original lyrics to work.

I've seen too many Shakespeare productions shoot themselves in the foot by riddling themselves with modern songs that train the audience's ear incorrectly and cause jarring juxtapositions. Whereas in this production, the modern songs propelled the action forward. Although in some cases they could have benefited from cleaner choreography to heighten the energy level of the sequences (or slightly truncated versions of the songs).

Some of the performances were really strong; some of them weren't. That's to be expected. Improvamama, who accompanied me, pointed out that all of the male characters in Twelfth Night are lunkheads. So true. Unfortunately one of the actors seemed to be a lunkhead playing a lunkhead, which didn't really work. Whereas casting Toby Belch as a woman worked insanely well. I almost think it should always be done that way.

I realized two other things while watching it. Number 1: You could really cut all of the scenes with just Sebastian & Antonio. They're completely unnecessary and any important plot elements from them get repeated in scenes later on. The question, I suppose, is whether or not those scenes heighten the overall dramatic tension. Number 2: I've never scene a staging of the second half of Act III Scene IV that I felt worked (mine own included). I find that scene troublesome.

But, who really cares about that but me, right? Go grab yourself a couple of beers and a pizza and watch some of the most accessible and hilarious Shakespeare you're likely to see these days. Impact's Twelfth Night runs through June 12th in Berkeley.

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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.