Presented by Anthem Theatre Company
Based on the work by William Shakespeare
Script by Brian MacInnis Smallwood
Directed by Bryn Boice
October 27 – November 5, 2016
Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts
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Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Boston, MA) I’m going to make a case for why Twelfth Night of the Living Dead, a mashup of Shakespeare and zombie movies, rises above its original source material. And I’m making this case post-Halloween, so I’m not gripped with Salem festival-like fever.
Simply put, this is the way Shakespeare’s ridiculous, cookie-cutter comedies deserve to be treated. The lesser comedies should all just be viewed as drafts or riffs, culminating in the exquisite fun of Midsummer Night’s Dream or Much Ado About Nothing, or derivative of those two plays. Shakespeare, or whoever the hell wrote these plays, was always trying to cut and paste gender swapping, mistaken identity, and star-crossed love into something that could keep the drunkards from throwing things at the stage.
I love many moments in the script of the original Twelfth Night, or What You Will, but some of it is so insufferable. I find it hard to enjoy the ultimate love matches made at the end of the script because one of the beneficiaries, Orsino, is so damn full of himself. Just watch his speech where he boasts that his lover’s sadness for her brother’s death will be killed by the…ahem…golden shaft of his love and try not to retch.
That’s why it is so much fun to watch Orsino, and the rest of the self-involved idiots populating this play, be completely unaware of an outbreak of zombieism until it’s too late. Indeed, the person Orsino imagines to be his right-hand man (Viola), is not a man and wants to eat his right hand.
The ever-growing presence of zombies adds a zesty urgency and sense of danger to the languished, lovesick plot; one gets the sense that director Bryn Boice held speed drills in her rehearsals for this production (“Emote faster during that line – you’re about to get eaten.”).
This troupe of actors crisply delivers the jist of the source material while balancing the choreography of dodging zombies. The acting may be uneven, but it is always enthusiastic, and the energy on stage riveted me.
By injecting blood and guts into the play, Boice and the cast aside the shackles of historical importance to bring us an energized update on Shakespeare. If you can handle the flying brains and the squirting blood, this production could serve as a gateway drug to fall in love with the Bard anew.