There is nothing I love more in this world than a good update on a classic. Now, as of late I have found myself trapped in many a discussion on the validity of a modern interpretation. But as I was taught and as I have known, I always come prepared to an argument with an arsenal of facts, site source material and the good ol’ gizmo (bam!)
Here’s a perfect example of a modern update of a Shakespearean classic that happened this past weekend right in the heart of our city, Central Park. The Public Theatre’s Public Works Program put up a SMASHING production of Twelfth Night at the Delacorte and let me tell you, not one toe was left untapped, not one soul left unenraptured by the brilliant coming togethers of the average Joe and Tony Award winning stars.
We know the story (or we’ve seen She’s the Man…) but here, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub do something so special with the text; a modern/classic fusion so flavorful, rich and comforting, all the while keeping its roots which perfectly mirrors their Illyria, New Orleans.
And I get it. Some updates are super forced and out of left field (There’s a production of Antony and Cleopatra back in Chichester that haunts me to this very day) but to declare “If music be the food of love, play on” and not think of New Orleans in all its music, art and sex appeal, there’s simply no hope in ever changing your minds. Frillies and plumes to you all!
Nikki M. James shines as Viola, mastering the language with coolness and ease. Jose Llana is a perfect Orsino, oozing incredulous amounts of love and angst, all in a man-bun, no less! Nanya-Akuki Goodrich’s Olivia was so spirited and jovial, a refreshing change to a character we know to wail on.
Audiences fell in love with Sir Toby Belch, Mr. Jacob Ming-Trent, a Public Theatre (and Entertainment Hour!) favorite as well as Andrew Kober’s side splitting Malvolio. Every single audience member in that sold out house was with these captivating performers one hundred percent, laughing at every nuance, radio silent at every touching moment.
One of the community groups that took part in this production was the New York Deaf Theatre. They served the role as the unspoken words inside Viola’s head when she wants to tell Orsino that she’s a woman and she loves him. Feste, played by Ms. Taub herself , sings “Is this not Love?” while the group dances and signs around Viola and Orsino. Certainly an absolutely gorgeous inclusion that I will never be able to forget.
I urge you all to support the Bard in all its forms and veneers wherever it pops up! Because God knows I won’t shut up about it.
Review: Brittany Goodwin
Photos: Sarah Krulwich