At the Globe Theater, where many of Shakespeare's plays premiered, the audience was an unruly mix of lowlifes and gentlemen.
The Legitimate Theater Company of New York takes a similarly inclusive approach, hoping to reach audiences "that are both tired of pop culture and skeptical of high art." In pursuit of that goal, it's doing Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at One Eyed Jacks -- a lively music club, but not the first place that comes to mind when you think of iambic pentameter and romance in the Kingdom of Illyria.
Shakespeare subtitled his play What You Will, but the Legitimate Theater Co. has subtitled its version "The Drinking Game." When you buy a ticket, you receive a slip of colored paper. This tells you what team you're on. Feste the Fool (Evan Prizant) explains the rules of the game with the help of a referee, who remains on the side of the stage for the entire show while Feste joins in the action. Team Blue drinks when "one character rejects another's love." Team Red drinks "when their sexuality is threatened" (or when the referee's sexuality is threatened). The Yellow Team drinks when the heroine Olivia is called "fair, pretty, beauteous, etc." Everyone drinks when there's a song. Everyone also drinks with there's a reference to the vagina.
This all sounds like good fun and it is, even though the drinking game tends to get lost as the audience focuses on the action -- except, curiously enough, for the vagina moments. These invariably get a howl of appreciation.
Of course, we're used to Shakespeare being updated, twisted and turned. Richard III will have his hump, but will plan his nefarious schemes on a laptop computer, etc. While the Legitimate Theater Company follows that trend, it does so with a somewhat different mood and attitude. The effect is as though the Swan of Avon and Daffy Duck teamed up. They're birds of a feather in that they're both waterfowl, but they do make an odd couple.
Twelfth Night invites this odd coupling. For in Illyria, confusion reigns -- confusion of all sorts. Duke Orsino (John Steel) is madly in love with the lady Olivia (Denise Centola). "If music be the food of love, play on," he famously rhapsodizes. But she rejects his suit.
Meanwhile, Viola (Britt Hullender) has washed up on the shores of Illyria after surviving a shipwreck in which her twin brother was drowned, or so she believes. Viola disguises herself as a boy and goes into the service of Orsino, who sends him/her as an emissary to Olivia. Olivia, however, falls in love with the messenger boy/girl. To make matters worse, the girl/boy has already fallen in love with Orsino, in whose name he's courting Olivia.
As you can imagine, the characters suffer great frustration, much to our delight. As it turns out, Viola's brother, Sebastian (Chris Bohnstengel), was not drowned after all. He also washes ashore in Illyria and sets out to seek his fortune. But as we already know, he's been preceded by his twin sister who has transformed herself into a boy. Further confusion sets in as the two boys are mistaken for each other. They are perplexed by people who claim to know them and by actions they are said to have done.
Another subplot concerns Sir Toby Belch (Ian Schoen) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Kevin Fricke) -- a pair of world-class tipplers -- and their dislike for Olivia's steward Malvolio (Michael Oscar Indest Jr.), who is a Puritan.
Belch, Aguecheek and Olivia's serving woman, Maria (Kerry Cahill), counterfeit a letter in Olivia's hand to trick Malvolio into thinking the lady is in love with him. He is told to win her love by wearing a weird get-up of tights and cross-garters.
Under Richard Lovejoy's direction, the cast -- some brought down from New York, some added here -- brings a zestful commedia dell'arte style to the action, with occasional hellzapoppin' non sequiturs of word and deed for good measure. They don't wear commedia costumes or masks, however. They're dressed in modern clothes, mostly of the thrift-store variety.
The set for Twelfth Night looks like it was designed by Samuel Beckett. There is a leaning tree, an overturned garbage can, a truck tire and two steps that might have been the entrance to a house. There's also a sign that says "Welcome to Illyria," presumably put up by the local chamber of commerce.
Twelfth Night: The Drinking Game is an offbeat, enjoyable quest for reality through a comic maze of mirrors.
- Conor McGibboney
- Viola (Britt Hullender) and Feste (Evan Prizant) coax the audience into a toast in Twelfth Night: The Drinking Game.