I, Malvolio

Photograph: Bruce Atherton and Jana Chellino

Theater review by David Cote. Duke at 42nd Street. By Tim Crouch. Dirs. Karl James and A Smith. With Crouch. 1hr. No intermission.

What’s funnier than an odious authority figure thoroughly humiliated? Watching the same haughty boob cling to his dignity as he turns (or tries to turn) tables on his tormentors. “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” Malvolio vows at the end of Twelfth Night, or What You Will. It’s one of Shakespeare’s best exit lines, a discordant note of egoistic rage in the midst of lovers reconciled and siblings reunited. But the abused steward’s revenge never happens. Soloist extraordinaire Tim Crouch remedies this silence. Appearing before the audience (composed mostly of schoolkids, since this is a New Victory production), he cuts a pitiable figure: begrimed, clad only in filthy long underwear, with a turkey wattle under his chin and a cuckold’s horns on his head. Crouch stares down the tittering, whispering crowd. “Find this funny, do you?” he queries imperiously. As a matter of fact, we do.

The 60-minute piece takes us on a tour through the major plot points of Twelfth Night, told from Malvolio’s sour perspective. Along the way, he bitterly abuses the audience for being noisy, rude, slovenly, undisciplined and generally unmannered. At one point, he brings out a noose, loops it over a horizontal pipe and has two volunteers assist him in attempted suicide. As the action proceeds, Malvolio washes off the dirt and other accoutrements of his humiliation at the hands of Sir Toby Belch, Maria and Feste, and gets back into his sober black suit. Is this the revenge he promised? Winding time back to the beginning of the comedy? Is Crouch suggesting that his censorious antihero is locked in a Groundhog Day–like cycle of respectability to degradation? Whatever the reason, I’m sure the teenage spectators were glad the English scold got his damn pants on; each time Crouch showed a bit of pasty bum through a slit in his long johns, there were hysterical howls of appalled disgust.

Presumably, adults in attendance will be less juvenile in their response. By the way, I, Malvolio isn’t just for kids. Any Shakespeare fan will enjoy this clever riff, Crouch’s tart performance and the script's observations about humor’s roots in cruelty and the psychology of a puritan. But we’ll leave the deep analysis to the students and their teachers. I’d rather focus on the prig getting his ass kicked (literally) by a child.—David Cote

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

Click here for tickets to I, Malvolio.

Event phone: 646-223-3010
Event website: http://newvictory.org
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