An Improbable Fiction Played Upon The Stage: “12 Nights”

Photo borrowed from Oberon website. No photo credit available on site. Notice from sources will prompt immediate update to give credit where it is due.

Presented by The Hypocrites
Directed and Adapted by Sean Graney
Adapted from the play by William Shakespeare

February 18 – 21, 2014
The Oberon
2 Arrow Street, Cambridge MA
The Hypocrites on Facebook

Welcome back dear readers! I am reporting to you from day two of Dani’s Grand Bardopalooza Adventure: 2K14.  Over three days, I will attend and review three different American Shakespeare remixes.  Tonight’s Oreo filling show: 12 Nights presented by The Hypocrites at Club Oberon.  Stop back later this week to catch the stunning conclusion of this Epic Shakes-Series.

(Cambridge) Watch out, Boston; The Hypocrites are back in town.

After their stunning production of The Pirates of Penzance (first performed at Oberon in June 2012, then again on the A.R.T. main stage this past May), I had high expectations for 12 Nights.  The Hypocrites excel at high-octane performance which engages and illuminates for audiences who might otherwise have given this style of theatre a miss.  As such, I thought that Shakespeare was a perfect fit for this Chicago-based company.  What better way to interest people in the Bard than to introduce them at a Hypocritical party.

On that front, 12 Nights did not disappoint.  It had hallmark Hypocrites panache: bright colors, whacky yet mundane costumes, and unexpected eighties music abounded.  As did simple yet immersive sets; a layer of AstroTurf, a Frigidaire, and a few lawn gnomes were all that four actors needed to bring Shakespeare’s story to life.

And my oh my did they engage with liveliness.  Never during the show’s eighty minutes did I once doubt that these actors were having fun.  While it took some doing to warm the audience to their whacky antics, I think I’ll (mostly) blame this on the snowstorm which raged outside rather than any fault of the artistic team.

My single qualm with the show may seem like an odd one for a self-touting Shakespearean purist: they should have ditched the verse.  While the Hypocrites did include some scraps of Shakespeare’s language in their performance, these proved more distracting than anything else.  The famous speeches were left mostly intact (the willow cabin speech, the ring speech, Antonio’s heartfelt berating of Cesario upon being captured by Orsino’s guard), but the rest of the text was reassigned willy-nilly, moved, cut, ignored, and otherwise indiscriminately butchered.  The adapter made up a fair amount of material to cover either known plot holes or ones created by the adaptation, and utilized his agency in script-writing to magically wave a wand over some of the more fraught issues this play presents in order to make them vanish into the top hat of adaptation.

Which is not to say that I wasn’t a fan of the adaptation (far from it).  In fact, the most vibrant work I saw onstage was when the Hypocrites performed purely from their script rather than attempt adherence to Shakespeare’s text out of some sense of duty or obligation.  In my opinion, if you’re going to adapt so freely (and so well), why not cut the ties altogether?  You’ll have more time in your production to do what you’re good at, and you’ll confuse your audience less with jumping back and forth from Early Modern English to Very Modern street slang.

Essentially, the Hypocrites’ attempt at MST12K (see what I did there?) was far more engaging in the context of their performance than the text they were riffing off of.  Their extra textual notes worked to tell the story in a fashion that entertained which, at the end of the day, is what all this Shakespeare business is really about anyway.

I would like to bring to bear a solid point of evidence: from my seat in the fishbowl-house, I had a clear view of one particular audience member.  This audience member was a girl of perhaps eight or ten years of age attending the performance with her mother and father.  And she loved it.  She was interested, she laughed at all the jokes, she simply couldn’t get enough of what she was seeing.  And when push comes to shove, that’s why we theatre people do what we do.  After tonight, that girl will be interested in Shakespeare.  That girl will be interested in seeing theatre.  That girl might even be interested in making theatre.  As far as I’m concerned, The Hypocrites did their job.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, despite the rampant cutting, they included my favorite joke in Shakespeare’s canon (Malvolio.  In the letter scene.  “If this come into thy hand, revolve”.  Any Malvolio worth his salt will perplexedly look up at the audience before taking a 360, thus requiring the gullers to scamper in an attempt to hide behind his back the whole time.  Physical comedy GOLD.)  I would also be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to the dozens of seltzer cans that nobly and selflessly gave their lives in the making of this production, valiantly playing the parts of “beer”.  Godspeed, fair carbonated beverage, we hardly knew ye.

On the whole, 12 Nights is definitely worth checking out.  Especially because it can prepare you for seeing Twelfth Night on the Common this summer.

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