Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review: Twelfth Night at Bedlam

Twelfth Night, or What You Will
playwright  William Shakespeare
company  Bedlam

Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Andrus Nichols, Tom O'Keefe, Eric Tucker

director/set/sound  Eric Tucker
costumes  Valérie T. Bart
lights  Les Dickert
props  Violeta Picayo
music  Tom O'Keefe & Ted Lewis

Andrus Nichols, Tom O'Keefe, & Eric Tucker
in Bedlam's Twelfth Night

Bedlam’s Twelfth Night takes a more serious view of Shakespeare’s play than its twin in rep, What You Will. This version is a melancholy show about unrequited love rather than a frisky, love-drunk comedy. Maria has a yen for Sir Toby, Malvolio mopes in Olivia’s friend-zone, and neither Olivia nor Orsino know quite how to win Viola—who is, incidentally, the only one giddy at the prospect of love. The company again plays multiple roles, mostly recast although Edmund Lewis and Tom O’Keefe stick with Malvolio and Feste. But everyone’s delivery is more subdued and introspective than in Bedlam’s other staging—and more realistic as well, with the script being played as dialogue more than poetry.

This prosy style grounds the characters in a post-college drift (Sir Toby is an alcoholic bro, Sir Andrew his stoner pal). But it doesn’t prevent the trio of Orsino/Viola/Olivia from shining in the romantic scenes. In a play-appropriate bit of perverse casting, Viola is played by a man, Eric Tucker, as female; the male Orsino is a woman, Andrus Nichols; only Olivia is conventionally gender-appropriate Susannah Millonzi. The first scene between Viola and Olivia just swings, staging a Shakespearean battle of wit and metaphor that’s absolutely charming and clever, and shows just how, why, and when Olivia falls in love. O’Keefe has a similar comfort with the Fool’s paradoxes, and for good measure he steals many scenes with his country-folk guitar. Lewis goes furthest, however, as Malvolio.

Generally I’m wary of stagings that play up sympathy for Malvolio. But in this melancholy take on Twelfth Night, his one-sided feelings for Olivia have more humanity than I’ve ever seen. Lewis plays him as an uptight cynic, vaguely misogynist, with an obvious crush on his jaded best friend. He’s a ripe victim for the bros and Maria, but he’s too familiar a type for that humiliation to wash as simple hijinks. Anyway, there are plenty of extraordinarily clever moments of staging that are Bedlam’s signature. Scenes that should present problems for a five-actor troupe, like the climax that has everybody meet face-to-face, are finessed with ingenious theatricality. And so the show resolves itself with Viola and her brother smooching their partners. With Tucker playing both twins, part of the joke is that the director ends the play in a clinch with both leading ladies, even if one is playing a man. This Twelfth Night, which starts in melancholy, ends in knowing laughter.

Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Eric Tucker,
& Andrus Nichols in Twelfth Night

Bedlam's Twelfth Night runs from Mar 13 thru May 2 at 312 W. 36th St.

photos: Jenny Anderson

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