A Raw Version What You Will (or 12th Night)
FoolsFury Company, one of San Francisco's new cutting edge companies, is currently performing a hip version of the Bard's comedy Twelfth Night under the title of What You Will (or 12th Night). This is not Shakespeare for the purist but a no-frills version mostly for young audiences. The cast members are young and have had very little experience with the Bard's iambic pentameter; however, they do a very creditable presentation with his cadences.
Director Rod Hipskind has kept this comedy simple and very different from the classic way the pleasantry is usually presented. He presents Twelfth Night with a commedia dell'arte style. It is full of acrobatics, wild movements and a lot of yelling. Some of the actors look almost gothic as they wander about the bare stage. The characters playing Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Feste are straight out of the film Animal House. The loud party scene in the first act looks like a wild frat party.
Artistic Director Ben Yalom describes the production well: "This is no frilled shirt picnic basket Shakespeare festival Shakespeare." Rod Hipskind decided to use the secondary title What You Will and it makes perfect sense. The vibrant production is full of campy action and strange movements by some of the cast members. It looks like they are having fun doing the Bard's work; there is no classic acting here.
What You Will is performed on a bare wooden stage that makes one heck of a lot of noise when the cast is tromping on it. When one enters the small 60 seat theatre, we see the cast warming up. This used to be popular in the '60s, but it seems archaic today and runs too long. The opening scenes are mostly silent, with characters supposedly on a ship nearing the shores of Illyria doing mostly poses out of a Martha Graham dance recital.
Director Hipskind has assembled a young, talented cast and many do a bang-up performance of the characters. Most great actors want to do the showiest role of Malvollio with his yellow stockings. Kunal Prasad plays the role very campy and he is very good in the second act. His prancing about is very fey, but he speaks the character words beautifully. Randall Cohn has a great voice for Shakespeare. However, he unnecessarily yells some of the speech when he becomes irritated. This is difficult to listen to in such a small intimate theatre.
Davina Cohen as Feste the fool is very good. This diminutive actress' mesmerizing acting made me think of a Nancy Walker on drugs. Lindsay Anderson is captivating in the role Olivia. She gives a classy performance and has the cadences down pat. Csilla Horvath offers a creditable portrayal of Viola, but she seems a little stiff playing a girl portraying a boy.
Parker Leventer is very flamboyant playing Sir Toby Belch. She does the male role as a commedia dell'arte actor and has the speech patterns down perfectly. Brian Livingston plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a manner more manly than foppish. Ryan O'Donnell, as Sebastian. has excellent vocal chops for Shakespeare's words and he dominates the stage whenever he appears. Ben Eckstein as Antonio and Mia Rovegno as the maid Maria round out the cast. Both are creditable in their small roles.
Hipskind's direction is excellent, with no dull spots to slow the movement of this fast paced play. He has devised a flashback scene showing the cast on the ship near the coast by using only thin black netting stretched around the cast. Each of the actors has a place inside the netting, with tall Kunal Prasad playing the masthead. It is an amazing scene.
Amy Chambers has designed some very natural costumes for the cast, especially Malvollio's wild costume for the second act. He looks like something out of the Arabian Nights, even with his yellow stockings.
What You Will (12th Night) plays through July 16 at the Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida Street (17th and Mariposa) San Francisco. To reserve seats call 1-866-GOT-FURY (468-3879) or go their website www.foolsfury.org.