Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: What You Will at Bedlam

What You Will, or Twelfth Night
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

The company of What You Will
Twelfth Night, a play that revels in gender ambiguity, is perfectly suited to Bedlam’s fluid method of staging classics. They dub this version What You Will while its twin, Twelfth Night, plays in rep—same cast, different roles. To make the play even more protean, the company double-cast Viola. Effectively (but not invariably) she’s played by Susannah Millonzi, while Cesario and his twin Sebastian is Tom O’Keefe. The actors look nothing alike, but realism in Shakespeare is a fool’s pastime anyway. Bedlam, led by Eric Tucker, would rather find insight in a theatrical staging than a mimetic representation. So in What You Will, as Tucker’s Orsino dances to a bossa nova beat, his partner alternates from Millonzi to O’Keefe. Viola’s ambiguity is a self-confusion that’s only straightened out by Shakespeare’s endgame. But Bedlam gets the final word, since it’s O’Keefe who ends up as Viola. Millonzi, who started the evening in that role, finishes up as Sebastian.

Millonzi, in her rookie effort with Bedlam, sounds the emotional depths of Viola’s soliloquies. Doubling as Maria, she also steals the comic subplot: a pinch-voiced nerdlet in love with a female Sir Toby, here an aging debutante. This puts her opposite Andrus Nichols in both plots, and their great chemistry justifies the unconventional approach all on its own. Nichols matches Millonzi’s shape-shifting abilities as Sir Toby and Olivia. The latter begins the play in deep bereavement, so that when her affections are tossed around by the twins, she’s naked-hearted and vulnerable. It’s a pleasure to see two talented Shakespearean women make the most of their chance to carry the play. Against their formidable performances, the male actors offer simpler takes on their roles, but presumably they find more in the partner staging of Twelfth Night.

Actually it’s worth noting that most of the backstage team is also female, from Valérie T. Bart (who supplies elegant post-war whites that get smeared with a passionate red) to the stage managers and PAs. One exception is Les Dickert, whose lights do more with less. Actor/director, Tucker also supplies the sound design, although the use of vinyl records (Ella Fitzgerald and other post-war sounds) is so closely intertwined with the staging that it probably fell under his role as rehearsal captain. Bedlam is a strongly collaborative company, and its sense of equality likely results in a more open-hearted work. In its short (two-hour) runtime, this What You Will beguiles the audience with an emotionally lush and sensitive staging.
Susannah Millonzi & Andrus Nichols
in What You Will

Bedlam's What You Will runs from Mar 13 thru May 2 at 312 W. 36th St.

photos: Jenny Anderson

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