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'Your Own Thing' Tries Revamping 'Twelfth Night,' Result Is Mixed

YOUR OWN THING Loeb Experimental Theatre Dec. 4-6

If Shakespeare had seen last weekend's production of Your Own Thing at the Loeb Ex, he might have recognized it as an early draft of Twelfth Night, rather than a script produced almost 400 years later.

Like its parent play, Your Own Thing, a rock musical based on Twelfth Night, with music and lyrics by Hal Hester and Danny Apoliner, traces the adventures and misadventures of twins Sebastian (Julio Gambuto '00) and Viola (Chloe Cockburn '01) in Illyria after being separated in a shipwreck. Only Your Own Thing is set in modern times, and the twins are musicians who answer the same ad ("Boy Wanted") and take the same position in a rock band.

Like everyone else in the play, the twins' employer Orson (Jerry Ruiz '00) doesn't realize that he's dealing with two different people when he hires them: he thinks they're both a boy named "Charlie." Because Cockburn and Gambuto sport such similar attire--black T-shirts, vinyl pants and Jacques Cousteau-type knit hats--and adopt the same earnest tone of voice, Orson's mistake is actually credible. Sebastian and Viola are equally unaware that they are both working for Orson: each presumes the other dead. "Charlie" acts as romantic go-between for Orson, carrying the latter's love-letters to the seductive, sequin-clad club owner Olivia (Vered Metson '01). Complications arise as Olivia and Orson both fall in love with "Charlie," Sebastian falls in love with Olivia and Viola falls in love with Orson. This being a comedy, however, each character gets the desired guy or gal in the end, and Sebastian and Viola are happily reunited--just as in Twelfth Night.

This is not to say that Your Own Thing's main fault is lack of originality. Rather, it stretches Twelfth Night's plot thin and destroys the original play's unity by neglecting important themes and literary nuances. Music, for example, is surprisingly subordinate to the plot. It is convenient that the main characters are musicians and musical agents for the purpose of fitting in songs, but music fails to be the full-bodied theme it is in Twelfth Night. Viola's name is, after all, a pun on the name of the musical instrument, and Twelfth Night opens with Orsino's well-known declamation: "If music be the food of love, play on." A disembodied voice delivers this famous line at the beginning of Your Own Thing, then punctures the effect by adding, "I can't remember if that's Marvell or Bacon." Well, rendered thus, it certainly isn't Shakespeare.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of Your Own Thing is its disturbing and blatantly unpolished handling of the homoerotic themes of Twelfth Night. Whereas Twelfth Night skillfully raises questions about the nature of gender and love, in Your Own Thing, homoerotic love is merely a mistake. Olivia the vamp falls in love with Viola-as-Charlie purely by accident, and Sebastian-as-Charlie steps in soon enough (earlier than in Twelfth Night) to rescue Olivia from the realization that she was really in love with a girl. Orson becomes aware of Viola-as-Charlie's affection for him and paces across the stage reading Freud aloud to clarify his feelings toward Charlie. The problem isn't in the performance--Ruiz plays Orson very well as a corny, unhip '70s throwback--but rather in the script. When Orson decides he is gay, Cockburn's pouty, teenage Viola--who, despite her masculine disguise, expects Orson to fall in love with her as a girl--is suitably distraught, convinced she will never have him. But when Viola's true gender is revealed, freshly-out-of-the-closet Orson unhesitatingly declares his love for her--whoever s/he is--and Olivia seems only mildly ruffled by the discovery of the discrepancy between Sebastian-as-Charlie and Viola-as-Charlie. Overall, the interpretation in Your Own Thing seems prudish: it takes only plot from Twelfth Night and leaves behind the Shakespeare's finesse.

Fortunately, Your Own Thing has its own version of Twelfth Night's Clown in the three members of the band "Charlie" joins. The band, The Apocalypse, composed of War (Michael Davidson '00), Famine (Eric Fleisig-Greene '01) and Death (James Chakan '99), is obviously modeled on the angst-ridden, death-obsessed hard-rock bands of the '80s. They were a fine Three-Stooges trio of sorts, mocking everything Orson said with an entertaining mix of slyly witty allusions and slapstick humor. Their kazoo version of a Corelli fugue was one of the show's highlights, provoking a spontaneous ovation from the opening-night audience. Davidson's War and Fleisig-Greene's Famine were especially outrageous and Chakan's Death appropriately deadpan. While characters like Orson and Olivia were funny because they were so easy to mock, the band members were intentionally--and successfully--funny.

Slide projections, voice-overs and an offstage puppet theater spiced up what was an otherwise fairly homogeneous performance. Kitschy pop culture icons like Shirley Temple, Humphrey Bogart, and John Wayne kept the audience connected to the plot, and the voices of Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III as the Mayor of Illyria and Professor of English Derek Pearsall as Shakespeare rang with pleasant familiarity amidst the musical's otherwise bizarre cultural collage.

Ultimately, however, the sketchy script, inconsistent performances and ill-sorted cultural allusions in Your Own Thing made sure the musical wasn't Shakespeare's thing--and not quite this critic's, either.

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