Get out of town to see Pig Iron Theatre Company

Photograph by Jacques-Jean Tiziou

It's that time again, people. It's time to go to the west side of Ninth Avenue, where the cheap buses line up, and it's time to get your $8 ticket to Philadelphia. Already you have let the first week of the Live Arts Festival slip by! And you mustn't let that happen, because there, on the other side of our beloved Liberty Bell, lurks a marvelous piece of entertainment: Pig Iron Theatre Company's production of Twelfth Night.

New Yorkers have already had plenty of opportunity to admire the mad whirligig that is Pig Iron—just last year we goggled at Chekhov Lizardbrain, which is the play you get if you tie up a poignant Russian realist and tickle him. Pig Iron somehow manages to combine longevity (16 years!) with an eternally fresh gladness. Steeped in the serious aspects of play, they have worked with just about everybody (including experimental-theater god Joe Chaikin) in their confident progress toward the devised-theater pantheon.

The troupe hasn't, though, worked much with playwrights' texts per se, and so by going straight to Shakespeare, it sets itself a pretty steep learning curve. Luckily, the creators put that curve right onstage—Maiko Matsushima's blocky gray set has a 12-foot-high quarter-pipe swoop built in. Actors race up it, slide down it and generally make mockery and mayhem to their hearts' content. Dan Rothenberg's ebullient production takes place in that least cheerful Illyria, Yugoslavia in the 1960s. Happily, Twelfth Night fizzes in any glass you find for it, so we find ourselves seeing the silly side of concrete architecture, horrible sweaters, Gypsy music (by Rosie Langabeer), and legions of heavy black beards.

I can not with a straight face say that I felt a great need to see another Twelfth Night—if it's not overproduced than let us say that it is certainly produced enough—but I suddenly find that it was absolutely necessary to see parts of this one. In that imaginary, perfect, fantasy-football-type production that we all keep building toward in our minds, I now have an Olivia (Birgit Huppuch, giddy and embarrassed with love for the first time), a Feste (strange, quiet Scott Greer singing under his breath) and a truly perfect Sir Toby Belch. Oh! Pig Iron regular James Sugg! There's something so wonderfully wrong with you. In a show in which the general buffoonery level is superb, Sugg's Belch rips forth with woozy hilariousness—a vision of hair dragged into a drunkard's halo, a fallen angel slurring even his pauses.