Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Central Square Theater Offers Up A Double Dose of Shakespeare - "Twelfth Night" and "What You Will" by Bedlam - In Repertory Through July 10th

Last season, the Bedlam troupe from Brooklyn took Cambridge by storm with their inventive interpretation of Shaw's "Saint Joan." This season they went double or nothing, offering up two distinct versions of Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night."  Both productions are directed by Eric Tucker. The first version, performed without intermission, runs for two hours.  It is pretty straight forward, except for the fact that the actors perform in street clothes with only a few props and articles of clothing to distinguish which of many characters each of the five actors is portraying at the moment. It feels like an early rehearsal of the play, with each member of the cast adding their own flavor of improvisation of gesture or aside to the audience.  I recall Eric Tucker turning to the audience after a particularly opaque Elizabethan twist of language and saying: "I have no idea what that means."  He and his troupe are walking a high wire, taking sacred texts and juggling them in ways that reflect new meaning and new layers of fun. Fortunately, they never stumble on that high wire, and the winners are Shakespeare's legacy and the audience's improved erudition and quotient of enjoyment.

The play itself is full of misunderstandings, mistaken identity and gender switching.  This troupe builds upon that base and has the five actors playing roles of both genders.  It helps if an audience member already knows the basic plot, but it still fun if you have to figure it out on the fly.

Each member of the troupe is memorable.
  • Director Eric Tucker, plays several roles here, and it is clear that he is the intellectual and emotional heart of this company.  His playfulness belies his passion for making Shakespeare accessible to modern audiences and for modern theater goers to take the Bard seriously.
  • Tom O'Keefe offers up a number of ditties, accompanying himself on the guitar, that lay a wonderful musical foundation under the unfolding action of the play.
  • Kelley Curran is formidable as Duke Orsino, trying to woo the bereaved Olivia, but who eventually falls in love with Viola, one of the twins who survives a shipwreck on the shores of Illyria. 
  • Susannah Millonzi does wonders with her voice as she morphs from one character to another, especially as the dim-witted suitor of Olivia, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
  • Edmund Lewis is memorable as the set-upon Malvolio, self-important steward in the household of Olivia. His two versions of the yellow stockinged and cross-gartered lovesick wooer of Olivia is worth the price of admission.
The second version, which is a pared down 90 minutes, is a stylized version of the essence of the play, performed under the title "What You Will," Shakespeare's original subtitle for his comedy. Each actor is arrayed in white apparel and wears white make-up.  As the action progresses, they take up brushes and apply vibrant colors of paint to the set and to one another.  This version includes high language and low humor.

Susannah Millonzi, Edmund Lewis
Eric Tucker (on floor), Kelly Curran, & Tom O'Keefe
in Bedlam's What You Will.
Central Square Theater
Through July 10th
Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography.

The Bedlam folks, as guests of Nora Theater Company, seems to be saying to us, "This subject matter is important.  Let's look at it through two new lenses, and let's have some fun together as we take this journey." This is a journey you do not want to miss.  The two plays are running in repertory through July 10th.  If you arrive at the Central Square Theatre in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, I can almost guarantee that the box office will offer you a discount!

Central Square Theater Website



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