According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Twelfth Night

Shakespeare's tale of cross-dressing and mistaken identity, set to indie rock.

Brandon Uranowitz, Matthew roi Berger, and Daliya Karofski in Twelfth Night.

Reviewed by Caitlin Fahey

There are countless ways to reinvent Shakespeare, but if your goal is to make it good, then those methods grow far more finite. It's easy enough for The New York Neo-Classical Ensemble to set Twelfth Night to a soundtrack they call "a fresh indie-rock score that sounds like it was downloaded from iTunes this morning." But this ”revival” of feels out of place right from Feste's (Brandon Uranowitz) first tune, in which Feste, Sir Toby (Matthew roi Berger) and Andrew Aguecheek (Cale Krise) romp about the stage in chaotic mock-rock choreography.

Twelfth Night is as much about music as it is about love--Orsino (Robbie Collier Sublett) opens the play with the line, “If music be the food of love, play on”--so it's easy to see director Stephen Stout's inspiration. In fact, the songs (by Berger), are catchy enough to fare well on their own. But this music doesn't fit effortlessly into an early modern comedy. The idea has promise, but Twelfth Night's iambic pentameter isn't built for song, so the performance feels forced.

And that's the rub, for Stout's direction works best when it isn't forced. For instance, his cast speaks with a hip, modern edge that helps Shakespearean novices to follow the plot, and that's great. But there are also moments where the meanings of the text are so thrust into the audience's lap that they lose their original comic appeal. Malvolio (Bill Griffin) notes, while reading a letter, "These are her very C's U's aNd T's... and thus, she makes her great P's." Andrew nails in the inside joke by reverberating, "Her 'cant'? Her 'cu-uh-uh-nt'?"

Thankfully, the aesthetics are far less intrusive. Eli Kaplan-Wildmann's set design is a simple curtained entrance/exit space, and the sparse props are well-used to illustrate larger events (for instance, a flickering candelabra conjures up Viola and Sebatian's Scene I shipwreck). The one exception is that Jessica Pabst's costume designs are rather hit and miss: Feste's ragamuffin-emo-hipster apparel works, but Sir Andrew is so over the top that he's hard to watch, and Maria (Daliya Karnofsky) looks like a cross between a secretary and a prostitute.

For all the inconsistencies, this production is true to the ritual of "Twelfth Night," the eccentric, fun-loving mindset for which this play is named. The cast is on the ball, too: in addition to Griffin's excellent Malvolio, Sublett's well-played Orsino, Uranowitz's near-perfect Feste, and Berger and Krise's notable Toby and Andrew, Corinne Donly, Grace McLean, Richard Douglass, and Hubert Point-Dujour Jr. all do wonderful work. By the second act, the audience can truly lose themselves in the absurdity and fun that makes Twelfth Night one of Shakespeare's finest.

Twelfth Night (2hr 25min with one intermission)
Theater Row: Kirk Theater (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets: $18
Performances (through 1/24): Wed. - Sat. @ 8:00

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