Review by Travis Manni
(Cambridge, MA) During my senior year of high school, being the drama club geek that I was, I took a Shakespeare class. The professor was insane, but amazing, and the biggest takeaway I got from the class was that Shakespeare really wanted to give the players in a show the right to manipulate and interpret his text as much as possible. Therefore, it seems quite fitting that Bedlam decided to split Twelfth Night, or What You Will into two separate productions of the same exact show using the same five actors to tell the same story with different narratives and tones.
If you’re unfamiliar with Twelfth Night, or What You Will (or if you’ve never seen She’s the Man) it’s the story of a brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola, who are twins and become separated during a shipwreck, believing the other had died in the disaster. In the foreign town she now finds herself, Viola disguises herself as a man, taking on the resemblance of her brother, Sebastian. She presents herself as a eunuch to Orsino, the Duke, and becomes his messenger in an attempt to convince a wealthy countess, Olivia, of his undying love. But Olivia cannot return Orsino’s love, instead falling for Viola’s outer disguise. And of course, the fact that Viola’s twin brother is running around causes complications.
Bedlam’s Twelfth Night highlights the truly genius comedy of Shakespeare’s original work and every single scene is littered with laughable moments. Clad in street clothes, the cast sets a fantastic comedic tone, rotating between characters and scenes with the simple changing of hats. When players weren’t in a scene, they sat on the outskirts of the stage, which featured only a table and chairs, to create a cool and unexpected tension. All actors had wonderful chemistry, which gave the drunken debauchery a sharp sense of familiarity.
What You Will was a more noir version of the story and focused on telling the theme of love as a plague many characters caught through a refreshing display of delicate artistry. Scenes were segued with soft jazz coming from a record player downstage, with the backdrop of an entirely white wall and floor, and two hanging Edison bulbs to accompany. Wearing exclusively white clothes that felt drawn out from the 40s and 50s, the cast transitioned between characters with the simple rearrangement of garments or change in accent. And when the notion of overzealous infatuation came into play, the white of the stage or clothes was tainted with red paint. It was a marvelous touch that gave the show a heightened sense of drama. But fret not, there was still comedy involved, including the necessary moments when a single actor played two characters in a single scene, which was handled hilariously well. Also, ice cream. That’s all I’m gonna say.
As for the cast, I was blown away. Eric Tucker, who also directed both productions, played such roles as Orsino and a sassy Sir Anthony, adding comical zest and flamboyancy that made his characters so likeable. Tom O’Keefe, who played Feste both nights, was able to pull off the role as both vagabond musician and crazed fool (depending on which night you see) with fluid dexterity, while also contributing to the overarching humor. Kelley Curran as Olivia’s gentlewoman in Twelfth Night was unflinchingly mischievous and then sultry and love-struck as Olivia in What You Will. Edmund Lewis, who played Malvolio in both shows, played the part with a perfect amount of conceit and naiveté that made his character so painfully endearing. Finally, Susannah Millonzi as the ever drunken Sir Anthony and then the trouble making, albeit a bit horny, gentlewoman was a damn riot, consistently hitting every comedic moment without missing a beat.
Both shows take great advantage of the theatre in the round space, breaking the fourth wall is often to keep the audience engaged. And there’s a great deal of genderfuck that occurs, a great staple for many Shakespeare shows.
You don’t need to see both productions, but I seriously recommend you see at least one. If you’re in the mood for hilarity, Twelfth Night is your best bet. And if you would rather see a more visually compelling drama, What You Will is the show for you.