By Louis DeVaughn Nelson (@hokum_arts)
PHOTOS: Mark Garvin[insert: Shakespeare quote] [insert: witty banter about food and love] [insert: compliment and complaint about adaptations] [insert: the correlation of the past, present and the future]
Seemingly, one could use this formula to write any review about any regurgitation of Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night. But what if there are special circumstances and reactions specifically involving the production, the actors, the venue and the audience?
Every time I unclench my fists and point them toward the keyboard I want to address the aforementioned necessities. Yes, there are many things that could be said over and over again by arguably the first master of the English language and yes there are so many puns involving eating and loving and doing both together — or separately — but still referring to each other, and yes Shakespeare has been done about 7,352,988 times, and yes, even back then it was innovative theater and it still is today (even in its classic form). And yes, much into the future, metal masked brethren will intellectually throb at the notions that are not so latently addressed in the texts that I’m absolutely sure will be performed for thousands of years.
What if there is a secret ail within that itself is the cause and the cure?
Betwixt the nonexistent fourth wall and the irrelevant lack of special lighting or sets and variables of velocities, there is a very distinct communication of anti-expectation from Filter Theater that speaks volume and verse. While doing a bang up job with representing and respecting Billy’s gifts as a consummate scribe and storyteller — what it’s done to Twelfth Night specifically can leave veterans aghast, and virgins titillated.
This is not to say that one is worse or better than the other – the whole point of his works are to provoke – a mission that also reigns true with Filter Theater. One or more may wish for more or less music, or more or less sex appeal, or more or less fun and games, or more or less pizza…
This is the beauty not only of what Filter has to offer, but it is what theater is for. It cannot please or disappoint everyone, and if it does, perhaps there has been a misstep. The clear social and class divide was evident in NYU’s Skirball Theater, and there were moments that were more than a delight or disgust for the more mature crowd, and some parts that had the students giggling or looking away in horror. Altogether, the arousing eccentricity of the presentation allowed a level playing field for the aquatinted and un-.
Sean Holmes wields an unflinching and excellent hand in directing this avant garde version of Twelfth Night and there is no stone that goes unturned in visualizing its excellence despite so many insertions of improvisation and ad libitum.
Now on tour in larger theater venues attracting broad audiences, my major qualm was the lack of intimacy from the performance itself. Though there are many instances where the performers interact and or join the audience, there is still this irrevocable distance between us. It reminded me of the distance that augments daily due to the advent of social media and technology. The text had been broken away from the stage and reinforced with music and then glued back together into an interpretation, but I still felt left out somehow with barely a moment to address or share with my friend who sat next to me. I imagined that if this were in a more intimate setting, the viscera would have been ignited more. I needed to be closer.
Perhaps it was because it was just a few days after Valentine’s Day and we were all watching a play about love and the lengths one will go through to achieve it. Maybe I needed to be closer to someone or anyone and the obvious attractiveness of the cast with their hip outfits and provocative instrument playing was helping in the worst way. Perchance I didn’t want to feel anything when the lyric that came during the culmination of the play came over and over and over again nonstop: “What is Love?” the actors sang in a bittersweet tone…
The cause did cure the cause did cause the cure and then again some more when the stage lights didn’t dim or black out or come up to full because they (along with the house lights) stayed the same the whole time. Though we never really entered the theater with its renown spectacle, we had to leave it. And maybe that was the point.
I felt like I was leaving a lover behind, though I had a mate in tow. He was a virgin to Twelfth Night who loved the energy of what Filter Theater had to offer and I held back mild pangs of envy when I noted the excitement in his eyes of seeing the play for the first time in this disjointed but brilliant incarnation. “It could’ve used more energy,” I scoffed, not necessarily because it was true – I was just jealous.
Twelfth Night was presented by Filter Theater in association with Royal Shakespeare Company at NYU Skirball Center For the Performing Arts from February 16-20, 2016. The performance featured Ronke Adekoluejo, Sandy Foster, Harry Jardine, Amy Marchant, Fergus O’Donnell, Dan Poole, Alan Pagan, Fred Pagan and Fred Thomas, ad was directed by Sean Holmes.