Shakespeare Visits the Interpretive Dance GhettoBy Pey-Hua Hwang
Oct. 31-Nov. 2, Nov. 7-9, 8 p.m.
Written by Shakespeare
Directed by Wanda Strukus
MIT Shakespeare Ensemble
Upon walking into Little Kresge on Opening Night of the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble’s version of Twelfth Night, I was struck by the emptiness of the stage and the graffiti on the set. I knew right away that it was not going to be the traditional version of the bard’s comedy of mistaken identities and mischief. My intuition did not deceive me. The show opened with an interpretative dance of sorts, in which characters walked on and off the stage, posing in various ways, all set to a modernistic-style blues. What this dance had to do with the rest of the show I have yet to figure out. However, taken on its own merits it was interesting as a stand-alone piece. The second act had a similar starting dance as well; however, it was probably a quarter as long.
When the dance finished, Shakespeare’s lines began. The actors were tentative at first, but grew measurably more confident as the play progressed. There were definitely one or two spots where lines seemed rushed or delayed due to stage nerves; however, there were also comic moments when one could forget the absurdity of portraying the Duke Orsino as a Jazz bar owner with loose women as his officers and dismiss the fact that the shipwrecked twins Sebastian and Viola were somehow shipwrecked in what seemed like a seedy inner city. Matthew Lehar G was a wonderfully self-absorbed Malvolio with all of the pompousness of a Harvard Finals Club member. Rich C Reifsnyder ’03, who played Feste or “Fool,” was also quite the scene-stealer of the evening. His delivery of Shakespeare’s joy in wordplay was both refreshing and natural sounding, and his rendition of Sir Topas the curate in the style of a television evangelist had the whole audience laughing. However, when the “Fool” was called upon to sing, whether the atonality was intentional or not, I wanted to plug my ears until the next scene began.
Catherine Miller ’05 also gave a confident and believable portrayal of Lady Olivia, while Lisa R Messeri ’04 would garner my award for the best imitation of hysterical laughter. James Dai G, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, was also able to make a normally forgettable part memorable through exaggerated physical comedy and incredible enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the two lead characters, Viola and the Duke Orsino, were fairly bland and didn’t seem to emit much chemistry even in the most intense scenes.
The style of the show was very minimalistic, perhaps not always fitting; however, certain effects were worth mentioning. The lighting and sound effects for the scene changes and the use of the whole theater for exits and entrances (actors entered through the aisles of the audience) were effective for engaging the audience and giving the show a greater momentum. It was also impressive that merely adding a curtain here and a sign and a chair there could clearly signify a scene and a mood change.
Having seen several versions of Twelfth Night, this production ranks highly in its creativity and enthusiasm, but it loses points for polish and believability. Twelfth Night would not be something I dress up to go see, but for two hours of alternative, MIT-style Shakespeare, it might not be a bad choice.