Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Abrons Arts Center (see Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Created by Pig Iron Theatre Company. Directed by Dan Rothenberg. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 50mins. One intermission.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will: In brief
Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company (Chekhov Lizardbrain), one of America's leading experimental troupes, makes a rare foray into the classics with a revival of Shakespeare's romantic farce. Dan Rothenberg directs; the cast includes Dito van Reigersberg, Birgit Huppuch, James Sugg and Chris Thorn.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will: Review by Helen Shaw
You have to duck to avoid Twelfth Nights these days; too many must-see productions are whizzing about. But honestly, don’t duck. Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company makes the impervious comedy seem freshly silly by going full goofball: Dan Rothenberg and the devising ensemble treat the text as a playground—respecting it, but sometimes in the way a two-year-old “respects” a super-bouncy couch. Maiko Matsushima’s concrete-park set even includes a quarter-pipe, which functions as a stage-high slide for love-stunned Orsino (Dito van Reigersberg) to collapse bonelessly against. Players can whoosh down it bottom-first—so obviously, they do.
The show has changed since Philly, though it’s still (cleverly) set in ’60s Yugoslavia, with heavy beards, bad sweaters and Balkan Gypsy tunes. The band still traipses around onstage, gorgeous Birgit Huppuch’s Olivia still spins giddily in an old prom dress. The physical-theater troupe still takes the first three acts by storm, led, as before, by berserker James Sugg’s sozzled Sir Toby Belch. But now radiant, reed-voiced Kristen Sieh plays cross-dressing heroine Viola, providing a slender fulcrum that balances the often anarchic, every-comedian-for-himself antics. As the long play grows more thoughtful, these hyperactive sports wear thin. Sieh, though, just goes marvelously inward. It’s the production’s lone intellectual delight: We watch her think her way through a world gone mad.—Theater review by Helen Shaw
THE BOTTOM LINE: Philly’s wily Pig Iron turns the Bard’s romantic comedy into a Slavic party.