Considering Pig Iron’s 2013 FringeArts offering Pay Up resembled theater only in it’s outlandish theatricality, the revival of TWELFTH NIGHT from the 2011 festival is an interesting change of pace. Known for unique and often off the wall original productions, Pig Iron’s fairly traditional take on a Shakespearean classic is a surprise in some ways—especially if like myself, you had not seen it the first go round.
TWELFTH NIGHT being the 1602 equivalent of a holiday special, there’s no shortage of booze-riddled merriment. Characters stumble over each other and navigate the two level set linked by an impressive skateboard ramp. This component of the stage sometimes aids in illustrating a character’s emotional struggle with dramatic downward slides of desperation, and other times creates a fun visual as well as a venue for physical comedy. To compliment the beautifully absurd action, a vaudeville-style troupe of musicians (“The Only Band in Illyria”) chime in throughout the play. The musicians as a collective add another personality into the mix, and despite TWELFTH NIGHT already bursting at the seams with all the cases of mistaken identity, gender confusion, and general buffoonery, they make a welcome addition.
The eclectic mix of attire donned by the cast of TWELFTH NIGHT highlights the different personalities and though doesn’t subscribe to any one time or place, all seems rather at home together (costumes by Olivera Gajic). Sir Toby’s garish hot pink sport suit layered over a barely buttoned Hawaiian t-shirt complements Shakespeare’s rowdy character almost as much as the natural charisma of James Sugg who plays him. In contrast, the simple sailor attire of Viola (Kristen Sieh) and her thought-to-be lost at sea twin brother Sebastian, (Charles Socarides) allow the subtler emotions of vulnerability and caring to shine through.
As is true with any well-known tale, actors face the challenge of giving new life to lines heard many a time previously. However with Shakespeare, the choice between relying too heavily on his immortally rhythmic words or changing pace and adding modern flair adds an extra element of difficulty. TWELFTH NIGHT mainly succeeded with this—the Duke (Dito van Reigersberg) and gender confused twins delivered lines with notable clarity and insight. Uproarious antics and fun abound in this rendition, but both some of the characters and direction (Dan Rottenberg) suffer from showmanship in place of thoughtful choices. Most strikingly so in the final scene when the newly sorted out couples dump their wine on the stage and exit one-by-one—contrary to the main theme of TWELFTH NIGHT, at least according to the always well-lubricated Sir Toby, which is drinking every last drop. However, that shouldn’t stop anyone in attendance from eating up this performance with gusto worthy of the holiday season. December 4-22, 2013. pigiron.org or fringearts.ticketleap.com/twelfth-night-or-what-you-will.