VIEWPOINTS – Putting the “play” into the play: Fiasco’s TWELFTH NIGHT and Kate Hamill’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

These days in New York, you’ll find a number of smart, young theater artists taking on the classics with one thing on their minds: play. That is to say, having fun, many times at any cost. Of these theater-makers, Bedlam, which recently concluded a run of its head-scratching, albeit terribly amusing, so-called adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, comes first to mind. But they’re not the only ones. This approach to theatrical storytelling – collective, smart, semi-devised stagings, with the goal of maximizing the performers’ enjoyment – has its advantages. These artists rely on the idea that watching them have fun equates to entertaining, satisfying theater. In the right hands and circumstances, some tremendous experiences can transpire (e.g., Bedlam’s repertory productions of Saint Joan and Hamlet, both directed by Eric Tucker, were absolutely sensational, even revelatory). However, there are times when this approach, or the lack thereof, can also dilute the dramatic intent of their underlying source materials. Let’s examine two current examples (both close this weekend).

The cast of Fiasco Theater's "Twelfth Night" at Classic Stage Company.

The cast of Fiasco Theater’s “Twelfth Night” at Classic Stage Company.

Classic Stage Company is currently playing host to Fiasco Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED)Fiasco’s roster of resourceful actors have shined in the past. The company burst onto the New York theater scene with their madcap production of Cymbeline. Since that giddy introduction, they’ve most notably brought creative, joyful storytelling antics to Sondheim’s popular musical Into the Woods. Both were marvelous hits with the critics and audiences alike, and rightfully so. However, their current Twelfth Night, directed by company members Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, interestingly finds the Fiasco folks shying away from the untamed inventiveness that have served them so well in the past. In doing so, they’ve exposed the unevenness in the quality of its actors, resulting in some rather bland characterizations, despite the general clarity of the storytelling throughout. As Fiasco continues to grow and evolve, I hope it can find the right balance between inevitable maturity and the madly imaginative theater-making that has been its hallmark.

The cast of Primary Stages' production of Kate Hamill's adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

The cast of Primary Stages’ production of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Over the past few years, young playwright and actress Kate Hamill has been making a name for herself for her frisky, farcical stage adaptations of 19th Century novels, particularly those of Jane Austen. Her vital and irreverent adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, as giddily directed by Eric Tucker for Bedlam, proved to be a big hit which had two very successful Off-Broadway runs in New York. Equally irreverent but a tad more laborious was her adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair for the now-defunct Pearl Theater Company. Now we have her version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (RECOMMENDED) for Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, presented in a co-production with The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. This fast and loose Pride and Prejudice, directed with panache by Amanda Dehnert and performed with unstinting energy by a hardworking cast, is a return to form of sorts for Ms. Hamill. Even if the stage shenanigans seemed a bit forced and strained early on, the stage adaptation’s second act – particularly the latter half – is inspired theater-making. Indeed, I ultimately found myself both deeply amused by the production’s irreverence as I was moved by its ability to boldly link the period world of the novel and our contemporary sensibility. This is accessible, crowd-pleasing theater.


Off-Broadway, Play
Fiasco Theater at Classic Stage Company
2 hours, 30 minutes (with one intermission)
Through January 6, or Twelfth Night!

Off-Broadway, Play
Primary Stages, a co-produced with The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
2 hours, 30 minutes (with one intermission)
Through January 6


Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

Leave a Reply