Twelfth Night, or What You Will
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Theater review by Helen Shaw
The first time I saw Fiasco was in its rollicking 2011 production of Cymbeline. Armed with recent MFA degrees, the company members had a merry and unpretentious way with Shakespeare, and clearly delighted one another; in Fiasco’s minimal-set, music-infused house style, the actors sat and watched from the sidelines, where cracking up was permitted. Their formula hasn’t changed since then, but their Twelfth Night lacks their usual derring-do.
The troupe has upgraded to a luxe version of its poor-theater aesthetic; Classic Stage Company's new look, designed by artistic director John Doyle, has more exposed brick than the best Brooklyn coffeeshop, and Fiasco looks right at home under all those glowing Edison bulbs. But the production’s coziness—sweaters, beards, sea chanties—smothers any sense of risk. When cross-dressed page Viola (Emily Young) is meant to strike sparks with Orsino (Noah Brody) or the besotted Olivia (Jessie Austrian), for example, the best they manage is a kind of snuggly affirmation.
With the love-triangle plot benched, the field is free for Olivia's foolish hangers-on. Toby Belch (Andy Grotelueschen) and Andrew Aguecheek (Paco Tolson) have their dunce caps strapped on tight, and their scenes together—so silly, so ass-over-teakettle ridiculous—have the old Fiasco zing. Ben Steinfeld’s sly Feste is also good, and does sharp justice to his song, “Come Away, Death.” But the company has landed itself in too-pleasant country. Better to set sail for rougher shores.
Classic Stage Company (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
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