Monday, August 14, 2023

Twelfth Night (burlesque)

Spoilers ahoy! 

I make no excuse for loving this particular play of Shakespeare's, easily my favorite of his comedies (and one I've seen dozens of times).  I also have zero problem with anyone deciding to "play" with the play, so long as what we get in the end works.

Toil and Trouble Burlesque's version of Twelfth Night does indeed work.  Sometimes I almost wept with laughter and a couple of times I nearly lost my breath.

Yes it is a burlesque.  Every single opportunity it seems for having somebody do a strip was seized upon (male and female).  More, since the venue is a bar they have a license that allows them to play/perform lots of popular music, which they do--weaving Kate Bush, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and Sira among many others, often with startling poignancy in such an overtly farcical show.

Same plot is essentially there--Viola (Kim Dalton) washes ashore in Illyria, believing wrongly her twin brother Sebastian (Alec Schiff) drowned, which he himself believes about her after he's rescued by a sexy pirate (Rehyan Rivera).  Somewhat rarely, these latter two are clearly portrayed as having a sexual fling going on.  Viola pretends to be a boy named Caesario who joins the service of Duke Orsino (Walt Gray IV) and gets the unenviable job of wooing the local Countess Olivia (Jessica Jones) on his behalf.  Olivia is mourning the loss of her brother (this is the first production ever I've seen that did something with this, how her story and Viola's have so much in common) (Reagan Osborne), but takes one look at Caesario and falls.  Hard.

Olivia's household includes her dour Steward Malvolio (Amir Levi), her maid Maria (Libby Letlow), her drunken kinsman Sir Toby Belch (Matt Pick), as well as his silly friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Daniel Krause)--this last portrayed with zero pathos which is one of my few criticisms of this gloriously fun production.

Rounding out the cast are the Fool Feste (Lily Anne Smith), one of the best Fools in all Shakespeare which is saying a lot.  Then there are a pair of maids in a series of fetchingly skimpy and sometimes kinky costumes (Angie Hobin, Kayla Emerson).

The plot is far more convoluted than I've hinted at here, but (as noted) explores quite a bit most productions don't.  For example, Viola begins to feel tempted by the Countess!  And Orsino is a tad confused in the end over who he finds more attractive--Viola or Sebastian!  More, I must applaud a production that makes zero attempt in even the slightest way to make the twins look like each other at all!  Not even their costumes have a single color in common!  And.  It.  Did.  Not.  Matter!

Honestly, this might well be my favorite production of Twelfth Night I've ever seen.  

Twelfth Night plays Saturdays in August at 7pm (the show itself starts at 8pm), i.e. Aug 19 and 26, 2023 at the Three Clubs Bar  1123 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90038, Los Angeles , CA.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Venus in Fur (review)

 Spoilers ahoy! 

Venus in Fur is not quite based on the (in)famous novel with the same title.  Not quite.  It rather centers around a playwright/director named Thomas Novachek (director Mark Blanchard in the performance I saw) looking for the lead of his adaptation of the novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whom we get the word "masochism").  He's in a degree of despair after a long day of auditions when Vanda Jordan (KATYUSHA) walks in, insisting she has traveled far via bus, in the rain, faced a whole series of challenges to get here, quite late.  He does not want to endure another audition.  She insists.  He refuses.  She insists.  He refuses again.  She keeps insisting, and finally gets her way.

They act out the first scene of the play-within-a-play.  And he is astounded.  Every bit of who she had seemed evaporates in favor of this elegant, simmering, seductive woman from another age, one with a voice full of vague promises and eyes that pierce.

So far, so good.  In fact, the set up is pretty much excellent.  And more, I felt increasingly impressed with both actors' performances as well as the script by David Ives, which does not seek to simply retell the novel, but takes the premise to explore if not the novel at least how we often treat the subject matter.  The cat-and-mouse (or sometimes cat-and-she wolf) game played between director and actress is at its best very compelling.  She catches him out on a lot, not least the inherent sexism of the story (not, I think, the same as misogyny--it is more complex than that) and how others see it.  He reveal along the way not-quite-the-full truth of why he has adapted this novel of all things. 

Also along the way we find Vanda shows some frankly unbelievable knowledge, having somehow gotten hold of the script and memorized it, and also committed chunks of the novel to memory as well.  She brought a bag of costumes, only some of which are for herself.  The others are for Thomas, as he enacts first the novel's male central character, and eventually finds himself playing the female role after she switches from dominatrix to total submissive when "her" man finally gets up the courage to threaten to kill her.

It makes for quite a mind-blowing experience, bleeding into mythology as well as the depths of psychological truths.  All of which is my jam in so many ways.

Let me make a few points, though.  The ending has problems.  It doesn't quite work once we arrive at the final three minutes or so.  Part of that was a sound system that simply did not convey the words the voices recorded were saying!  More, the very end of the play did not feel like an end, but a stop.  The audience didn't even know whether to applaud or not.

Those are a bit subtle, and in terms of that last might well have been an aspect due to the early performance (this happens, often unpredictably in live theatre).  More importantly, I don't want that criticism--which is real--about the end to take away from the journey, which was well-done and dove into some really interesting, kinky, and startlingly topical truths.  

For the record, the show is ninety minutes long with no intermission.  Such information was not in the program, unfortunately.

Venus in Fur plays  through September 3, 2023, Fridays & Saturdays  at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm at the McCadden Place Theatre – 1157 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles. CA. 90038