Twelfth Night

July 2, 2016

in Plays

Play (1602)
by William Shakespeare

The Nora Theatre Company
in association with Bedlam
Central Square Theater, Central Square, Cambridge, MA

June 9 – July 10, 2016

With Kelley Curran, Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Tom O’Keefe, Eric Tucker

Kelly Curran, Eric Tucker, Susannah Millonzi in Bedlam’s 'Twelfth Night'

Kelly Curran, Eric Tucker, Susannah Millonzi
in Bedlam’s “Twelfth Night”
Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography
Courtesy of Central Square Theater

The more informal, less abstract, and easier to access of Bedlam’s two improvisational takes on Shakespeare’s early comedic classic running in alternation in Central Square.

I saw What You Will, Bedlam’s other take on Twelfth Night, two nights ago and it was a pleasure to return for this quite different turn on the same play by the same troupe.

The same five actors play all the roles, but, somehow, in this version, I found it considerably easier to follow. They use literal hats to indicate their characters, and, as they switch roles they switch hats, which makes things easier to decipher. There is still some digging to do when there are more minor characters involved, but the general outlines seem quite a bit clearer here.

As well, this production is intentionally less stylized and more informal than the What You Will version which seems like a cross between a modernist painting and a Greek tragedy. This version seems more like a Music Hall frolic, and in quite a few ways better suited to the material.

In a way, the most vividly pleasing scene comes at the end when, in culminating the character switching antics of the whole evening, the entire cast stands in a circle and in a mad flurry of deliveries and rapid passing of hats, take turns delivering lines for all the characters. It is utter madness and total fun and truly lives up to the name of the company – Bedlam – in the best way possible. This kind of melee shows a mastery of lines and timing and exchange of characters that is hard to believe until one sees it. It’s truly a lot of fun.

On the other hand, if one did not know the play quite well and who the characters were it would, like the production of What You Will though to a somewhat lesser extent, be a challenge for someone to try to follow. It could be an entertaining experience to watch the cast do its antics, but one that would likely leave the bulk of the drama in the dust.

Bedlam’s mission, clearly, is to play a kind of Shakespearean jazz, to provide a morphing of the play in a way that takes off from the familiar and moves beyond it in innovative ways. Nevertheless, the language is pretty much Shakespeare through and through apart from the occasional gags and one-liners.

Some of the deliveries are beautiful and really hit their marks, though it is the entire ensemble, tightly connected though outwardly relaxed, that deserves overall credit.

The same actor in this production plays Viola and Sebastian, and, when in the culmination both characters show up together along with Olivia and Orsino, the result, in terms of staging, is quite hilarious.

These kinds of gags represent many of the greatest strengths of Bedlam’s operation. In What You Will the cigarette-passing gag is very very funny and in this one the hat-switching gag and the Viola-Sebastian revelation moment are equally strong.

Bedlam’s Saint Joan, produced at Central Square Theater last season, was a superb production of the Shaw classic, also involving a small group of actors filling many roles. The three men in the current production, director Eric Tucker, Tom O’Keefe and Edmund Lewis, appeared in that production as well. The two women, Kelley Curran and Susannah Millonzi, have been added, to great effect, for this production.

– BADMan

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