HRDC Rocks With the Bard

A small metal table sat center stage, nearly buckling under the weight of dozens of bottles of booze. This bar served as the centerpiece for the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s new production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” As the play descended into a giddy mash-up of gender-bending chaos and romantic comedy, the irreverent cast of characters drained the bottles, and their spent cans rolled around on the stage with all the illogical direction that marked the revelers who empty them. At times, this dedication to playing up the bacchanalian nature of the Bard’s original text caused the play to sag beneath the weight of its own affected whimsy. However, the strength of the cast, all of whom exhibit remarkable comedic timing, managed to overcome the production’s occasional self-indulgence. “Twelfth Night”—which ran in the Loeb Ex from April 5 to April 7 and was directed by Susanna B. Wolk ’14—was a saucy staging of an already flippant play. The cast and crew brought Shakespeare’s bawdy gem into the modern era with ease and hilarity.

The play follows several tangled love triangles from their creation to their eventual romantic resolution with only the most ridiculous characters left single by the end of the production. Viola (Olivia L. Ball ’14) and her twin brother Sebastian (Matt J. Bialo ’15) unwittingly run circles around their respective love interests, Duke Orsino (Josh G. Wilson ’13) and the Princess Olivia (Anjali R. Itkowitz ’13, a Crimson arts writer). Viola decides to cross-dress as a way of getting closer to her prince and in the process wins Olivia’s heart.

Wolk seamlessly integrated liberal drug and alcohol use into Shakespeare’s text. She played with the original wording in interesting ways—when the script told the characters to “hold their peace,” they held aloft their pipes instead. No one called for swords to be drawn without thrusting their crotch into the air and gesturing wildly at their genitals, and every convoluted Shakespearean insult was accompanied with eye-rolls and raised middle fingers. Dummy weed was passed around in sandwich baggies in many scenes, and the cast, especially those playing characters who were most deeply under the influence, did a magnificent job of slurring and stammering their lines to hilarious effect.

Ball was magnetic as her male alter ego Cesario—she strutted across the stage, leading with her sock-padded crotch, and in moments of great emotion and confusion her eyes always managed to find their way back to the audience with a conspiratorial glitter. For example, in one scene Cesario tries to fend off Princess Olivia’s wild affections. She tried to escape, but in the course of the action she still found the time to send the audience an impish wink that highlighted the farcical nature of what was going on.

The gang of pranksters, Maria (Madeleine F. Bersin ’14), Sir Toby Belch (Nathan O. Hilgartner ’14, a Crimson arts comper), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Aaron S. Graham-Horowitz ’15), Fabian (Nancyrose Houston ’15), and their luckless target, Malvolio (Ari D. Brenner ’14) ultimately stole the show. Hilgartner and Bersin’s every movement laid bare their characters’ complete moral bankruptcy, while Brenner’s portrayal of a party-pooper-turned-hopeless-romantic was hilarious to the point of tears. In this absurd gaggle, however, it was Graham-Horowitz who shone most brightly. His stage presence was a consistent highlight of the show, and he played the bumbling Aguecheek with infectious absurdity. There were several moments in which Aguecheek tried to show off his dancing chops. What he saw as irresistibly suave was actually the bizarre lovechild of the Robot and the Funky Chicken, a dance which Graham-Horowitz preformed to hilarious effect.

With giddy wickedness, drunken belligerence, and romantic intrigue running rampant, there were a few moments when the play boiled over past the point of artistic subtlety and into the realm of pure spectacle. For example, when the revelers managed to convince the authorities to institutionalize Malvolio, the glee with which they persecuted him was overblown and seemed incongruous, even for this band of merrymakers. However, for most of the play, the impressive cast managed to reign in the madness; as a result, their characters remained genuinely intriguing and sympathetic. The cast and crew of “Twelfth Night” worked hard without taking themselves too seriously, and the result was an inventive staging of Shakespeare’s classic comedy.

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