The sensible novelist and critic Angela Carter as soon as mused that it’s exhausting to imagine being killed by too much enjoyable – “death by tickling, perhaps.”
Carter was distinguishing among ‘fun,’ ‘pleasure’ and ‘delight.’ Fun, she writes, is totally different from pleasure as a result of pleasure has overtones of the sensual – and subsequently, the probably dangerous. Even “havin’ a bit o’ fun” – the cheery British expression for sex – disengages enjoyable in bed from love, marriage, any larger concern.
“Fun is also quite different from delight, which is a more cerebral and elevated concept,” Carter writes. Delight means one thing on the earth has been illuminated – and lights us up in return. Carter concludes that ‘fun’ is just “pleasure that does not involve the conscience or, furthermore, the intellectual.” It’s fancy free! Which is why many people really feel “it must be inherently trivial.”
Determinedly trivial fun is what’s served up eagerly by director Kevin Moriarty in his present production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ on the Dallas Theater Middle. The present is sometimes amusing, but there’s good purpose it’s been chopped right down to 90 minutes with out an intermission. Like tickling, this type of enjoyable wears out shortly.
‘Twelfth Night’ is Moriarty’s first effort with an incredible Shakespeare rom-com since he staged ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to inaugurate the Wyly Theatre ten years in the past. A decade on, and the moment we set eyes on set designer Anna Louizos’ marvelously realized beachfront property for ‘Twelfth Night,’ it’s plain that the director’s willpower to maintain Shakespeare enforcedly ‘contemporary’ and supposedly more accessible remains undimmed.
In interviews, Moriarty has expressed a worry of being boring in the theater. Yet he’s employed the exact same methods with Shakespeare for ten years now: stripping down the script, utilizing a contemporary setting, including pop songs (this time, it’s Jill Scott, Billy Joel and Stevie Marvel who fill in), arming actors with squirt weapons, encouraging singalongs with the audience, casting actors non-traditionally and having them run via the aisles to please us because, look, there’s somebody truly operating by means of the aisles during a efficiency.
In all this, it seems he’s extra afraid of Shakespeare’s personal words, Shakespeare’s knowledge and humor simply delivered by gifted actors – one thing that audiences may truly want. This time round, all that’s missing from Moriarty’s go-to methods is the celebratory balloon or confetti drop on the end. But let’s return to that confetti-less finale later: It displays one of the director’s extra fascinating and substantive modifications to Shakespeare’s play.
Having been shipwrecked on the Adriatic seashore, Viola (Delphi Borich) asks some passing strangers, “What country, friends, is this?” Their reply: “This is Illyria, lady.” However we know the actual answer: “This is Padre Island, babe.” The cut-off shorts, the swaying palm timber, the young individuals dancing to an onstage band enjoying Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Loopy’: All we’d like are some frats lighting up some blunts.
The level – as it was with Shakespeare, too – is setting ‘Twelfth Night’ in some relaxed and beguiling Different Place, a vacation from the workaday. Louizos and costumer Mari Taylor have worked painstakingly to make this sandy Shangri-La as convincingly real as a plastic lawn chair, a beer cooler and a string of celebration lights.
If only that a lot consideration had gone into rooting the characters as actual, conflicted or partaking human beings, we’d really feel one thing was at stake. Something may delight and illuminate.
To take a couple of examples: Tiffany Solano DeSena performs Olivia, the countess in command of this specific Margaritaville. The Woman Olivia is in mourning over the tragic, double lack of her father and brother. But because her sorrow leads her to reject the romantic overtures of Duke Orsino, Olivia is repeatedly described as heartless, even cruel – principally by Orsino.
And that’s primarily how DeSena performs her – and never for laughs. Or depths. Not often does she convey that Orsino’s wooing may truly be insensitive, that Olivia is weary from all this dying and duty. Her servants rightly mock her melancholy retreat from life because life itself is the remedy for melancholy. On the similar time, although, the countess good-naturedly defends the jests to her sour major domo, Malvolio:
To be beneficiant,
guiltless and of free disposition, is to take those
things for bird-bolts that you simply deem cannon-bullets:
there isn’t any slander in an allowed idiot, although he do
nothing however rail.
As an alternative of a ‘free disposition,’ DeSena sticks to enjoying Olivia as virtually imperious. Conversely, David Matranga performs Orsino as just about your commonplace, cool dude – and never, as Shakespeare intends from his opening strains, a silly aristocrat swooning round, rhapsodizing about love quite than truly loving a lady.
DeSena’s off-putting Olivia even punches a gap within the story’s romantic logic. Viola’s brother Sebastian (Christopher Llewyn Ramirez) exhibits up miraculously alive and has a rapturous encounter with Olivia – because long before his arrival she’s been enthusiastic about Sebastian’s twin sister Viola, who – as Shakespeare’s heroines are wont to do – has secretly disguised herself as a male servant. Olivia’s sudden attraction to Viola-in-drag is an emotional thawing that the good Mark Rylance – when he played Olivia in the Globe Theatre production – reworked into one of many play’s fundamental pivot factors and a tremendous comic flip. Right here, DeSena’s amorous reaction to Viola is so tepid, you may miss it.
Consequently, when the Sebastian-Olivia romance does come along, it doesn’t really feel prefer it’s much cause for joy. Congratulations, Sebastian, you’ve just gained the guts of a fairly chilly contessa. Good luck with that.
Or think about Malvolio. Alex Organ has an actual expertise for enjoying monsters (‘Frankenstein,‘ ‘Othello‘), and he easily adds Malvolio’s prickly officiousness to his repertoire. Malvolio despises the party-loving spongers at Olivia’s home: Toby Belch (Liz Mikel) and Andrew Aguecheek (Blake Hackler). They, in flip, prank him by making him consider the Woman Olivia is secretly in love with him.
‘Fun,’ in response to the Oxford English Dictionary, has its origins in the hoax. There could be a component of ridicule in ‘fun’ – we will ‘poke fun.’ Which is why audiences typically feel sorry for Malvolio by the top: He’s the butt of what can seem a mean-spirited practical joke, a case of humor going too far by messing with an individual’s weak emotions. Organ plays Malvolio with the stiff physicality and bristling power of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. But for probably the most half, his Malvolio is just an imperious stick. With Fawlty, there’s frustration and pathos powering his rage. He is aware of he’ll never escape the second-rate lodge he’s stuck operating together with his dim-witted employees.
Right here, we never actually really feel why Organ’s Malvolio would so hungrily grasp at Woman Olivia’s love. Kudos to Moriarty for creating the one, little, cleverly invented scene that hints at Malvolio’s internal simmer. He notices the cast love letter from Olivia that triggers the prank as a result of he’s been caught with choosing up the beer bottles and other seashore trash left behind by the partygoers. That’s our only glimpse of why Malvolio may resent Belch and Aguecheek: They add to his indignities. In any other case, he’s just a convenient spoilsport we all take pleasure in mocking.
Undergo the other roles in “Twelfth Night” and repeatedly subtract these kinds of motivations, and the comedian humanity Shakespeare puts on display turns into virtually skeletal. Finally, the characters appear to exist to set off the subsequent plot system.
That’s partly as a result of Moriarty’s reduce out any chunk of text he finds inconvenient. Which – fairly surprisingly – consists of just flat-out killing off Feste, one in every of Shakespeare’s iconic fools. A number of of Feste’s biggest strains remain like faint echoes, parceled out among the onstage musicians, together with the clown’s famously wistful track, ‘The Wind and the Rain.’ But Shakespeare’s fools are more than just entertainers. They’re steadily a play’s actuality principle. Without that clear-eyed figure embodied here – typically becoming a member of within the antics, typically standing aside warily – the carnival spirit runs free, weightless and pointless: As Feste sings, when he was a toddler, “a foolish thing was but a toy.”
In place of all these lacking emotions, Moriarty inserts pop songs – taking his cue, as many administrators have, from Shakespeare’s famous opening line: “If music be the food of love, play on.” However right here, the songs aren’t so much additions to – that’s, amplifications of Shakespeare’s intent – they’re substitutions for. Or they’re attempts at substitution, at any fee. When Liz Mikel’s ‘Aunt’ Toby Belch is admonished for being drunk, she responds with outrage and with Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab.’ Apparently, no one’s paid attention to the music’s defiant but in addition self-pitying tone and lyrics: “I don’t ever want to drink again / I just, oh, I just need a friend / I’m not gonna spend ten weeks / Have everyone think I’m on the mend / And it’s not just my pride / It’s just till these tears have dried.”
I do know, I know. I sound just like the killjoy Malvolio, wagging his finger disapprovingly. It’s not that Moriarty’s ‘Twelfth Night’ is with out its actual pleasures. Virtually anything with Blake Hackler in it is value watching – even when he’s been oddly forged, as he has been with Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It’s odd as a result of the baseline joke with Aguecheek is that – as his identify signifies – he’s too previous, timid and sickly to be taken critically as a possible husband for Olivia. It’s solely Toby who encourages this hopeless courtship so Aguecheek will continue underwriting Toby’s consuming tab. Toby goads Aguecheek into challenging Viola-in-drag to a duel so as to impress Olivia together with his braveness – whilst Aguecheek is just too puny or frightened to succeed.
With Hackler, this complete comedian set-up is significantly shifted because he’s comparatively young and vigorous. As an alternative of a foolish previous feeb, his Sir Andrew is a whirligig of gleeful, clueless power. When requested to show his dancing talent, Hackler kicks up his heels in delight – like a toddler displaying off how excessive he can leap. His Aguecheek could also be timid but he’s also uncontrollably impulsive – once more, like a toddler. Hackler is the one actor here who ought to escape by means of the viewers because he’s the one who can get amusing, using his awkward collisions with seated theatergoers as additional revelations of his character’s spirited idiocy.
So the comedian shift here is that Hackler’s Aguecheek is clearly a poor selection as a attainable husband for Olivia – not as a result of he’s previous but as a result of he’s performed as stereotypically ‘gay’: dapper, flighty, boyish, sulky, not a “manly” fighter.
However beyond the squirrelliness Hackler finds in Sir Andrew, these characters lack conflicting impulses, emotional detail – except, apparently sufficient, the fairly minor figure of Antonio, the sailor who rescues Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother. He assumes a much larger, more nuanced position because Moriarty has strongly emphasised the homoeroticism in ‘Twelfth Night.’ He’s hardly the primary director to do so: That Previous Globe manufacturing with Mark Rylance had an all-male forged, simply as Shakespeare’s unique ‘Twelfth Night’ did. Even with out such a wholesale casting selection, the fluid sexuality in Shakespeare’s comedy is inbuilt: When Orsino has his new manservant, Viola, take his romantic appeals to Olivia, he’s disturbed by how simply his affections appear to shift from their meant target to this engaging younger ‘lad’ he’s employed.
But Moriarty goes even additional and in a special course by highlighting the connection between Sebastian and Antonio. Eventually, there’s a bit of rom on this rom-com. Sebastian’s dialogue doesn’t truly categorical any erotic or amorous attraction: He provides the formulation of gratitude and respect (“I perceive in you so excellent a touch of modesty”). But Antonio speaks extra emphatically, with larger longing: “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant.” They usually kiss – an motion not indicated within the textual content; nonetheless, it’s a kiss that has extra tenderness in it (on Antonio’s aspect no less than) than all the opposite dreamy or frantic wooing happening.
And this results in one of many few really compelling moments in the entire DTC ‘Twelfth Night.’ Antonio is arrested by the Duke’s males, so he asks the good friend he thinks is Sebastian to offer him some cash to bail himself out. However it’s Viola-in-drag, not Sebastian, Antonio’s talking to. So she, bewildered, declines the request. The moment feels genuine as a result of Ace Anderson does something rare here: He plays two emotional notes concurrently. He’s each indignant and tearfully harm. To him, Viola’s refusal isn’t simply unkind or disappointing, it’s like a rejection from a lover on the worst attainable moment: “I’m breaking up with you, you’re going to jail and I’m acting like all of this doesn’t involve me.” Anderson’s Antonio achieves such sympathetic attraction, such human reality right here that, not long afterwards, when Malvolio seems all pouty and unhappy about how the letter prank turned out – we barely notice him as he sulks around the theater.
The musicians (KJ Gray, Nicholas Rothouse, Nathan Burke) carry out Feste’s ‘The Wind and the Rain’ as a result of now, the fun of this little Mardi Gras is over: “But that’s all one, our play is done.” Sobriety re-asserts itself – with its newfound couples but in addition its unavoidable demands.
The scene is hardly any ‘fun.’ However for this fading moment, Anderson does little or no and nonetheless holds our rapt attention. He conveys a man critically considering, contemplating what he feels, what he’s lost. Alone, he listens to Shakespeare’s words being sung. He contemplatively smokes a cigarette. He’s utterly silent.
Yet, by some means, he’s not boring.