Theater Review: Brian MacInnis Smallwood's 12th Night of the Living Dead, New York
Written by Hannah Marie Ellison
Published October 26, 2007
The Impetuous Theater Group, an always dependable, independent theatre company in New York, is serving up some gore and laughs with Brian MacInnis Smallwood's merging of the worlds of William Shakespeare and that of George A. Romero with 12th Night of the Living Dead. It is a wickedly funny homage to the films of Romero, Shaun of the Dead, and countless other zombie films.
The show opened with a flourish last evening at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center (in the La Tea Theater) down on Suffolk Street. Smallwood, director John Hurley, and an impressive cast serve up a bare bones adaptation of the play (coming in at one hour) with something for everyone. It's fast, funny and very, very bloody.
The insanity begins with a shipwreck, not caused by a storm as in the original play, but from a meteorite crashing into the ship (presented here as a rib tickling puppet show), killing many on board. Well, not quite. The action then moves to the kingdom of Illyria, with the Duke Orsino (Aaron Michael Zook) lying around listening to music (Alex Pappas on ukulele), pining away for the love of Lady Olivia (Shashannah Newman).
Viola (Lindsay Wolf), now a zombie, is swept onto the Illyrian shore after the shipwreck. Alone in a strange land and very, very hungry for human flesh, she immediately and easily dispatches her first victim. She assumes that her twin brother, Sebastian (Jason Paradine), has been drowned - but yes, he has also been transformed into a zombie.
While looking for food, Viola goes to work in the kingdom of Duke Orsino, where she quickly becomes his favorite. He makes her (now named Cesario) his page. When Orsino sends Cesario to deliver a love message to Lady Olivia, Olivia herself falls for the beautiful young zombie, believing her (or it) to be a man. Orsino and Olivia are both just a wee bit clueless to the fact that Viola is a zombie.
Meanwhile, Olivia's drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Timothy J. Cox), his silly friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Benjamin Ellis Fine), who is trying in his own fruitless attempt to court Olivia, Olivia's sharp waiting-gentlewoman, Maria (Erin Jerozal), and Feste (Larry Giantonio), the witty clown of the house, hatch a plan to play a practical joke on the pedantic Malvolio (Tom Knutson), the hard-faced steward of Olivia's household. Maria engineers a practical joke to make Malvolio think Olivia is in love with him. (The famous letter scene, which includes Malvolio's "change", is priceless).
At this point, Viola has made the rounds, quenching her thirst for flesh, and causing all hell to break loose in Illyria. Blood is flying everywhere, body parts are being removed and tossed around like softballs, and moans of "braiiinnnnsss" from the new zombies are heard everywhere. It's bloody mayhem and it's bloody good.
It is quite an ambitious undertaking to take a totally cinematic convention and transfer it to the stage. The Impetuous Theater Group is to be given high marks for meeting this challenge head on. While there is a lot of blood splattered in the play, much like Evil Dead: The Musical, none of the violence is meant to offend or even scare. It's all about the laughs for this production, and there are so many.
Each member of the ensemble cast is top notch, all looking like they're having the time of their lives, but favorites are definitely Timothy J. Cox and Benjamin Ellis Fine, driving the show with superlative comic performances as Sir Toby (he also has the play's most memorable death scene) and Sir Andrew, respectively.
Erin Jerozal also scores as a humorous Maria, and so does Larry Giantonio as an amusingly half-baked Feste. Lindsay Wolf, in the physically demanding role of Viola the zombie, is also to be commended.
Director Hurley keeps the show moving at a rapid fire pace with much of the dialogue overlapping and the action constant. Rachel Gordon's set is appropriately gloomy, while Lilli Rhiger's flamboyant costumes add to the ridiculousness of it all. The make up and special effects design, provided by Alley Getz and Janet Zarecor, is also quite vivid.
The show is one you don't want to miss because it has something for everyone. 12th Night of the Living Dead runs at CSV until November 10th. Please visit the Impetuous Theater Group for tickets and information.