What happens when you cross Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with George Romero's Night of the Living Dead? You get the perfect Halloween treat: a zombified Shakespearean comedy that is a well-balanced mixture of clever, disgusting and hilarious.
Photo by Tony KnightHawk
Reviewed by Ilena George
The La Tea Theater, which houses 12th Night of the Living Dead, forever won my admiration earlier this year as the venue for Point Break Live!, a production based on the Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swazye film about an FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of bank-robbing surfers. The show involved a lot of audience participation, from soaking the first two rows, to holding them up in a “bank robbery” to actually using a member of the audience each night to play Keanu Reeves’ part. 12th Night has a similar appeal: The show is playful, a little ridiculous and completely entertaining.
Although the space lends itself to productions that have an informal feel to them, that’s not to say that the production is poorly put together. Quite the opposite is true. As a whole, 12th Night of the Living Dead melds together Shakespearean and modern references in several entertaining and smart ways. Lillian Rhiger’s costumes mix elements from modern clothing with period dress: The opening scene features Orsino and one of his musicians dressed in bathing suits over white stockings, while also sporting ruffs. The men wear modern suit pants modified to become trunk hose. Even Feste, who is a long-haired, round sunglasses-wearing free spirit in this production, has his jeans hemmed up to the thigh.
Surprisingly, and satisfyingly, the zombie trope is completely apropos for the Twelfth Night story: not only does much of the dialogue readily adapt itself to a more horrific situation (“What kind of a man is he?” asks Olivia, referring to the zombified Viola/Cesario. “He is of…mankind,” replies Malvolio.), but turning the characters into ravenous, cannibalistic zombies also perfectly illustrates the complete self-absorption of all the lovers in the play.
The show stays true to Shakespeare’s dialogue. However, since the undead are rather reticent, the conversations get more and more one-sided as more and more characters become zombies. But many of the characters are so caught up in themselves that they are utterly unable to see the terrible reality right in front of them. Duke Orsinio’s solipsism is especially hilarious; he forms a close bond with Viola/Cesario, thinking “he” is a willing audience to his (Orsinio’s) constant ramblings on life and love, never realizing the obvious—that “Cesario” is a woman and, at least in this particular production, undead.
From Larry Giantonio’s stoner Feste, to zombie Viola (Lindsay Wolf) and her insatiable hunger for human flesh, to Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Benjamin Ellis Fine) and his dead-on comedic timing, to gaunt and severe Malvolio, played by Tom Knutson, the vivid characters are in turn winning, funny and all completely doomed. Although the zombie comedy can start to lose its luster— at times, there is such a thing as too much zombie physical comedy or dribbling blood—the production includes enough gory surprises to keep the material fresh. No pun intended.
12th Night of the Living Dead is a delicious gorefest, including a (literally) visceral death scene near the conclusion and a grand mêlée ending, one that guarantees a bloody good time.
12th Night of the Living Dead Adapted by Brian MacInnis Smallwood
Directed by John Hurley
La Tea Theater (107 Suffolk Street, between Rivington and Delancey)
October 25-November 10
Tickets: $18, 1-800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com
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