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A CurtainUp Review
Twelfth Night

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?— -Sir Toby Belch
12th Night with Rock Band
Brandon Uranowitz (Feste), Matthew roi Berger (Sir Toby), & Daliya Karnofsky (Maria) in Twelfth Night with a Rock Band
(Photo Credit: Carl Wiemann)
Twelfth Night has always been one of Shakespeare's most popular works, but even under that standard there seems to be a serious revival of interest in the play lately, with two separate productions being mounted in New York within two weeks of each other. This might be a sign both of the times and our taste. Shakespeare's greatest comedy is not a laugh-a-minute battle of wits like Love's Labor's Lost, nor a slapstick farce like A Midsummer Night's Dream, but a much more complex and challenging play, one which in its interest in shades of gray over black and white is in some ways a perfect fit for our more complicated age. Claiming to reflect "the joy and doubt of a young generation dealing with a world of uncertainty," the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble's latest production taps into this modernity, but (fortunately) doesn't sell the play's soul in the process.

And this sure isn't your parents' Twelfth Night. From the live band (which frankly could have been better) playing the "indie rock score" with the cast whipping out wireless microphones to sing along Spring Awakening style to a haphazard wardrobe to a hippie priest performing marriage ceremonies with a tambourine, over-reverence clearly isn't a problem for director Stephen Stout. While I'm not sure the music is quite as "fresh" as the production notes claim, the band plays it with gusto, and their enthusiasm is contagious. This is indeed a young group of performers, most if not all recent NYU graduates, and their obvious chemistry serves them well. This is a good thing, as the closet chic costumes and (to be kind) minimalist set don't add much to the production. In general, this is obviously meant to feel as modern as possible.

Blessedly, this approach doesn't diminish the richness at the heart of the play, and here Stout and his cast deserve credit for the attention they pay to Shakespeare's language and message. Lots has been made through the years of Malvolio's (played excellently here by Billy Griffin) ill treatment, if not torture, at the hands of Feste (also well played by Brandon Uranowitz) and his cohorts, Sir Toby Belch (Matthew roi Berger, also the composer of the production's score) and Maria (Daliya Karnofsky), but here the bad-tempered steward is grouped on several occasions with Antonio (Hubert Point-Dujour) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Cale Krise). The effect is striking. Suddenly the play becomes a meditation on castaways of a different kind, and the question of who must pay the price for the merriment and happiness of others becomes an important one. There's a good deal of this kind of subtlety throughout the performance, and it's good to see.

Despite these positives, the news isn't all good. The cast ranges from competent to excellent (Grace McLean is particularly outstanding as Olivia) with two big exceptions: Robbie Collier Sublett, who doesn't seem to understand the difference between melancholy and rage and thus spends most of the play having his Orsino yell at anyone in earshot (throwing away a number of lines in the process), and Corinne Donly, whose high-schoolish presentation of Viola completely wipes out the subtlety of her character. This is a pretty big problem given the importance of these two characters, and it's hard to understand how Stout, who makes so many good choices, missed the boat here. But it's a measure of the overall quality of the production that despite these missteps, the energy combined with the respect for Shakespeare's vision is enough to carry the day, and on the whole this is a show worth seeing.

Twelfth Night
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Stephen Stout
Cast: Matthew roi Berger (Sir Toby Belch / Composer), Corinne Donly (Viola), Richard Douglass (Sebastian), Billy Griffin (Malvolio), Daliya Karnofsky (Maria), Cale Krise (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Melissa Lusk (Valentine, Officer, Priest, Keyboard, Backup Vocals), Grace McLean (Olivia), Hubert Point-Dujour (Antonio), Matt Sadewitz (Curio, Sea Captain, Officer), Robbie Collier Sublett (Orsino), Brandon Uranowitz (Feste)
Band: Gabriel Fonseca (Bass, Acoustic Guitar), Matt Gliva (Guitar, Vocals), Alexander Nifong (Drums) Set Design: Eli Kaplan-Wildmann
Costume Design: Jessica Pabst
Lighting Design: Carl Wiemann
Sound Design: Duncan Cutler
Running time: Two hours, twenty minutes (includes one fifteen minute intermission)
The Kirk Theatre, 410 West 42nd St.,
From 1/08/09 to 1/24/09; opening 1/14/09
Wed. – Sat. @ 8 p.m.
Tickets: $18, $15 for students
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on January 14th performance
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