Monday, April 27, 2009

How will this fadge?

Twelfth Night
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

Chicago Shakes always invests in impressive designs. So to walk into their beautiful space on Navy Pier and be faced with a pool taking up the entire area of their thrust should come as no surprise. While the pool is used in some spectacular ways (Viola descends from the catwalks and is cast into the sea in her entrance - Malvolio is suspended over the water as his prison) the pool is also used in very practical ways as well.

It's rare that a bold and expensive design choices, such as staging a whole play around real water, is anything more than spectacle. But director Josie Rourke is able to place scenes in more specific locations and makes them make more sense. Orsino and his court are lounging poolside pining for love. Sir Toby Belch's first scene is him waking up in the morning and going to the bath to clean up after a night of drinking. There is also a balancing act, similar to walking a tight rope, with the anticipation of falling or slipping into the drink that creates a dynamic tension that the audience has to deal with through out the play.

Also, Rourke explores a theme of rebirth through water; being washed clean leads to rebirth much like the idea of Baptism. Viola is cast into the sea and chooses to begin a new life. When Olivia admits to falling in love with Cesario she jubilantly washes off the grief of her brother's death by falling into the pool. And, of course, the reuniting scene between Viola and Sebastian takes place in the waters of the pool.

This production is truly not to be missed. All the performances are spot on, but above and beyond that the most impressive thing about this production was its clarity. Not only was the text handled superbly; every actor knew exactly what and why they were doing in every moment of the show. Not a gesture, not a look was thrown away. This attention to detail makes the whole show completely mesmerizing. As someone who has seen and worked on several productions of Twelfth Night, I found myself constantly amazed by realizations that I had never considered about certain moments and scenes. And this was definitely the first time ever that I could believe the pair of Viola and Sebastian were twins - the casting all around is excellent.

Chicago Shakes out does itself. This production shows why they are a Tony Award and Olivier Award winning company.

Happy Birthday: August Wilson (1945-2005) & Jules Lemaitre (1853-1914)

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