This is how it’s done people. What a delight this production is. Brought over from Shakespeare’s Globe, Twelfth Night is in rep with Richard III through February. Both productions are being presented in the original Elizabethan style. There is on-stage seating resembling the levels of the Globe, period costumes and corsets, and most noticeably, an all-male cast. And although I haven’t seen Richard yet (review to come in January), I have a hunch that if it’s anything like Twelfth Night, neither is to be missed this Broadway season.
My good friend Courtney was my theatre pal for the evening. Oh! Would you look at that? She also happens to have a kick-ass blog! Anyway, we haven’t stopped talking about the show. The actors are excellent across the board and are a hoot to watch because it’s clear they’re having so much fun. And after sitting through Macbeth a few weeks ago listening to actors who don’t have a handle on the language, what a pleasure it is to hear Shakespeare’s words spoken the way they were meant to be spoken. Every single person up on that stage knows what they are doing, and as a result, every single word is brought to life. The poetry pours out of the lines, and there is a sense of great clarity surrounding each scene. Guys, even Ben Brantley and I agree: “They let the language lead them to the characters. Because they know what they’re saying — and where what they’re saying comes from — we do, too.” If I had to pick from his entire canon, I would say Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespeare play. I’ve seen three different productions (including Shakespeare in the Park and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon), plus the film, and even so, I still heard lines in new ways. I got to discover the comedy and wit of this piece all over again.
And don’t even get me started on Mark Rylance. This man, I mean, I can barely talk about it. Ever since I first laid eyes on his work in the farce Boeing Boeing, for which he won a Tony Award and gave THIS brilliant acceptance speech, I have not missed a show of his in New York. He starred in Le Bête and Jerusalem (for which he won his second Tony), and now he is back for these two Shakespeare plays. I look forward to seeing his Richard in January; in Twelfth, he takes on the beautiful, somber yet sassy Olivia.
Watching Mark Rylance is the equivalent of taking an acting class (read a great Q&A here). Never have I seen an actor discover on the line more. For you non-theatre folk out there, in Shakespeare, actors are encouraged to discover/have the new thought/get the idea/change tactics as they speak (“on the line”). However, many actors react and then speak when in fact the words are there to help them. Every word that comes out of Rylance’s mouth is a true discovery. It is so clear that you can catch shifts within him from syllable to syllable. Each moment is a surprise for him and therefore us. Okay, okay, I’ll stop gushing now. Go see him.
What more is there to say really? I could bore you with details or recap the story, but I don’t think it’s necessary. What counts is that Courtney and I were equally blown away (along with everyone else I’ve talked to). The direction is effortless and the acting organic. The characters and inner-relationships are incredibly well-developed. And it may have a running time of 2 hours and 50 minutes, but it never feels like it.
Oh, and those of you out there afraid of Shakespeare plays for fear that you won’t understand, this is the one to see. Billy would be proud.
Twelfe Night, Or What You Will
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Tim Carroll
Belasco Theatre through February 16th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Samuel Barnett and Mark Rylance
I’m sorry to declare that if you’re a fan of Macbeth, the current production up at Lincoln Center is not the one to see. Maybe you caught the more interesting Alan Cumming production a few short months ago. Or there’s still time to go see the abstract, interactive Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel. This more traditional approach, on the other hand, starring none other than Ethan Hawke as Mac, just sits there, barely filling the vast stage that is the Vivian Beaumont. True, the set and lighting designs are epic and at times beautiful, but they cannot make up for the significant lack of stakes within the scene work.
The drama comes across as stale with nothing really hanging in the balance. This is Macbeth we’re talking about! The murderous, bloody, envious story of Macbeth usurping King Duncan’s throne and then destroying everyone in his path in his desperate attempt to hold on to the throne. Instead, when something serious goes down, the moments venture toward melodrama. You know something is wrong when the most effective moment in the show is when the dining room table suddenly appears covered in lobster after Banquo’s untimely end. It’s quite surprising given that Jack O’Brien is the director. I like his work; he rarely disappoints. Is direction the core issue at hand here or is it the acting?
I love Brian d’Arcy James as Banquo. The man has an incredible singing voice, and his speaking voice is just as musical. I found myself wishing he had played Macbeth. And Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth was quite astute. Her work, including the infamous “Out Damn Spot” monologue, was some of the best in the show. John Glover is also charming and enticing as one of the bearded witches. As for Ethan, while I have enjoyed some of his film work, he has never particularly impressed me on stage. Granted he is fearless and always ready to take on any part, no matter the size, but he yelled his way through Henry IV and all three parts of The Coast of Utopia. In this, his voice is all one note. There is no music in his sound, and I left craving something more.
The show doesn’t open until November 21st, and I’m very curious what the reviews will report. The running time is just under three hours. I wonder if any cuts were made from the original script. Hecate and the weird sisters are followed around by crawling gremlin-like things. My friend had a nice nap during Act II. I’m not quite sure what else to say. The bottom line is Shakespeare needs stakes. Period. If that is missing, particularly in one of the tragedies, then why is the story needed?
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Jack O’Brien
Lincoln Center Theater through January 12th
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson
Pictured: Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff
Odds are by this point you’ve heard about Sleep No More. It’s been quite the sensation in NYC. What started as a super limited engagement over two years ago is still running to sold-out houses. I’m here to tell you to catch it before it’s gone. As far as interactive, theatrical experiences go, this is top-notch and one of the coolest nights at the theatre I’ve ever had. If you choose to go, it’s good to be prepared so below is my list of tips to fully enjoy the evening.
But first, a few words on what Sleep No More actually is. It’s a Punchdrunk production – a British company known for their interactive, site-specific theatre. A warehouse in the meat-packing district has been turned into this 1920s dark, creepy hotel called the McKittrick. There are five floors and countless rooms. The audience moves through the space freely wearing white masks. Meanwhile, the performers also run around from room to room (without masks so you know who to watch). It’s primarily a dance piece, and through movement, they tell the story of Macbeth. Very little is spoken, it’s super avant-garde, and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Okay, my suggestions. Go.
-Review Macbeth. If you don’t know the play, read it first or get an idea of the synopsis and characters. This will be helpful when you catch a scene out of context, but at the same time, don’t worry if you don’t know what’s going on or who someone is. Just enjoy the performances!
-Wear comfortable shoes. And dress comfortably, not too heavy. It’s hot in there.
-Check everything when you arrive. Really. Don’t carry a bag, phone, purse, loose change, etc. You don’t want to worry about that stuff when you’re running around in the space.
-Follow your instincts. If you’re bored or want to check something else out, go somewhere else. That’s why the show is brilliant. You can do whatever you want; you create your own unique experience. No two people have the same night at the theatre.
-On that note, if you go with someone, I highly encourage you to split up. This way you can truly follow your gut and do what you want. You’ll likely run into each other throughout the evening anyway.
-The whole show loops three times except for the finale so you very well may see something twice. If you happen upon a scene you’ve already seen, you don’t necessarily have to immediately ditch. You could follow a different actor at the end of that segment.
-It might be a while before you find an actor when you first enter the space. My first time it took me 40 minutes, and my second time I practically ran into one right when I walked in. As soon as you see someone without a mask, follow! Run if you’re up for it!
-I know there are a lot of cool rooms, props, and keys. Enjoy this and feel free to explore, but don’t get obsessed. I know someone who sat in a room and waited for ages, sure that something would eventually happen, and another friend who found a key and spent the entire show trying to find what it opened. The details are fun and you should definitely look around, but don’t dedicate your evening to them.
-Hydrate! I suggest checking a water bottle with your stuff so you have it to drink afterward.
-Wear a watch so you can head to the ballroom at the appropriate time for the finale. If it’s a 7pm show, head over around quarter to 10pm. This is the one thing you want to plan on. Get as close to the long table as possible.
Above all, I would say be ready to adapt. I wouldn’t go in with a plan; it’ll likely just backfire due to crowds or getting lost and you’ll end up being disappointed. I’ve talked to a lot of folks who have been worried that they’re going to miss something. Honestly, that’s the nature of the show. You are going to miss things; you can only be in one room at a time. But who knows what you’ll get to see?
With or without these tips, you’re going to have an excellent, one-of-a-kind evening. Tickets are expensive, but man, is it worth it.
Sleep No More
A Punchdrunk Production, Directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle
McKittrick Hotel through February 16th
Photo Credit: Yaniv Schulman
Pictured: Matthew Oaks
It’s hard to believe Alan Cumming wasn’t nominated for this performance. What a feat. The entire production, really, is quite the endeavor. I imagine most of you know Macbeth from reading it in school, or maybe you saw Patrick Stewart in it a few years ago, or you saw the dance film noir version still playing at the McKittrick Hotel (a blog post on Sleep No More to come in the future), but you’ve almost certainly never seen all the roles played by one guy in a room. So I say again, it’s hard to believe Alan was not recognized for this tour de force. True, not all of the show was successful; I was definitely in and out of it. But when I was in, I was in.
We began with a mental hospital of sorts; light green tiles cover the walls instead of the expected white. The only inhabitants are spare cots, a sterile sink, a few chairs, a metal staircase leading up to the keypad exit, and a bathtub. An observation window lurks high above on the back wall. The lights go out and we’re immediately hit with powerful sounds, static and something like Morse code. It’s like a bad connection on a submarine or when you’re stuck in between radio stations, and it creates a super creepy vibe, particularly juxtaposed with the opening actions on stage. The sound keeps the conversation muted as two attendants check in a new patient (Cumming). They scrape underneath his fingernails, swab his cheeks, give him a shot, and collect his clothing for evidence. The man is clearly affected, traumatized. He sits, stunned, fresh bloody scratches across his upper chest, clutching one particular bag of evidence which he refuses to have taken from him. All of this business takes several minutes. I loved that they took the time to set the mood. The attendants finish up, lay him down to sleep, and depart.
And then the Shakespeare text begins. This lost man is suddenly swept up in the story of Macbeth, and his conviction skyrockets as he jumps from character to character, starting with the three weird witches right up through Macbeth’s bloody end. The script has been cut down to focus on only the major roles (Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff, Duncan, etc). We enter the secret corners of this man’s mind as he transforms his asylum into a feast, a castle, the woods, the king’s bedchamber, and so on.
The real joy is watching Cumming switch characters in the blink of an eye. You never doubt for a second which person he is portraying at that moment. There are physical cues and even props at times, but his physicality shifts so effortlessly that they can practically be deemed unnecessary. He can get a laugh before he even speaks. During an intimate scene between Macbeth and his wife, I actually felt like I should turn away and give them some privacy.
I would say if you have the chance, check it out before it closes July 14th. Not all of the piece is as engaging as one would hope; there is a lot of text to cover and the play runs approximately 1 hour 45 minutes. I admit I found myself bored at times, but when certain scenes click, it’s extremely captivating. Only a handful of clues are sprinkled throughout about who this man might be. The audience gets to walk away speculating, filling in the back-story for themselves. By the conclusion, we have acted as bystanders to a human being falling apart at the seams. No matter how many characters he may have shared with us, he remains one heartbroken man, trapped indefinitely in his own mind and with his own crimes.
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel
Pictured: Brendan Titley, Alan Cumming, and Jenny Sterlin