Theater review by Raven Snook
Streamlined to a single song-and-dance-filled act, Classical Theatre of Harlem's raucous mounting of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night features wonderfully broad performances that embrace the play’s humor and elucidate its poetry. For fans of romantic comedy, this free outdoor production at Marcus Garvey Park is a midsummer night's dream.
Kara Young (Clyde’s) is the show's heart and soul as the shipwrecked and destitute Viola, who believes her twin Sebastian (J'Laney Allen) to be lost at sea. To secure a job with Duke Orsino (William DeMeritt), she poses as a man—but cross-dressed complications ensue when Orsino sends her to woo Olivia (Christina Sajous, fabulous in every way), who promptly falls for Viola herself. Everyone else is on the hunt for lust and laughs, especially the play's clowns: Olivia's souse of a cousin Sir Toby (Chivas Michael); his clueless, culture-appropriating pal Sir Andrew Aguecheek (the invaluable Carson Elrod, in beaded braids); Olivia's sassy maid Maria (Cassandra Lopez); and jester Feste (Israel Erron Ford), who croons autotuned ditties that set the Bard's words to Frederick Kennedy's groovy, funky melodies. Their plot against the pompous Malvolio (a hilarious Allen Gilmore), which can sometimes come across as cruel, is all fun and games in this version; in lieu of locking him in a dark room, they strap a VR headset on him.
Carl Cofield directed this high-concept take on Twelfth Night at Yale Rep in 2019, and several cast members and the whole creative team of that production reprise their roles here. An Afrofuturist aesthetic is woven throughout the storytelling and design: Brittany Bland's sensual projections deliver bursts of virtual reality, and Mika H. Eubanks's glorious costumes fuse contemporary street style with cyberpunk. Duels are fought with lightsabers, in Matrix-style slow motion. It's racy and riotous—an unabashed crowd-pleaser that inspires snaps and squeals of approval throughout. If whooping be the proof of love, this Twelfth Night is playing on all cylinders.
Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Carl Cofield. With Kara Young, Christina Sajous, William DeMeritt, Allen Gilmore, Chivas Michael, Carson Elrod, Cassandra Lopez, Israel Erron Ford, J'Laney Allen. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission. Through July 29.
RECOMMENDED: Free outdoor theater this summer in New York City
Twelfth Night | Photograph: Courtesy Richard Termine