An '80s Pop Twelfth Night with Voices Found
“If music be the food of love, play on.”
And in this case I believe he’s referring to a recording Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long" from 1983. This weekend Voice Found Repertory stages a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that is immersed in pop ‘80s style. Classic Shakespearian comedy bubbles-up out of an aesthetic cut-up of various moods and styles courtesy of directors Nick Hurtgen and Shanna Theiste.
When we first see Sarah Zapiain in the role of Viola, she’s wearing a Laura Ashley-style floral print top with huge shoulders. For much of the play the character then slides into incognito to serve as a servant in sneakers, jeans and a backwards Domino’s Pizza baseball cap. Zapiain is crushingly charming in the role of a woman disguised as a servant who is falling in love with the man she serves. Zapiain deftly finesses the difficulties of sudden romantic love in a very serious and heartfelt manner while playing to the physical comedy the Hurtgen and Theiste so richly fosters in the soul of the production.
Soon we are introduced to a deliciously powerful Margot Lange in the role of Lady Olivia. When a clown refers to Olivia as “madonna,” she’s referring to Lucky Star-era Madonna from 1983. Pop star Madonna’s style from back then always felt like it had a roguishly playful New York street royalty swagger about it that serves royalty quite well in this instance. Also serving royalty in this instance is a clown played by Selena Milewski with exotic precision dressed as a 1974 Ziggy Stardust complete with eye patch. (‘70s Bowie style is echoed in comic form as Kenneth Montley plays a charmingly robust Toby Belch with an Aladdin Sane-style lightning bolt on his face.) Milewski’s sinister precision in the role combines with a crisply hypnotic TV test pattern of a costume to make her seem...almost deific. I’ve seen Shakespearian clowns played in a variety of different ways over the years, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. She stands out from everything else onstage like a goddess of a force of nature, which is kind of a distraction when it’s not perfectly settled-in t0 the rest of the stylistic patchwork of the show.
Samantha Taylor falls into a classic comic subplot quite well as Malvolio--played here in costuming only as an Ed Grimley-like character. It’s a relief that she’s not also adopting Martin Short’s voice and motion as the character. The costuming goes a long way toward making the character work. Taylor tactfully mutes the louder, more aggressive aspects of Malvolio until such time as they are needed to awkwardly attempt to woo Lady Olivia.
The comedy at the center of the production is solidly executed here. The ‘80s pop style of the show only occasionally clashes with the rhythm of the piece. The ‘80s pop tunes sometimes feel a bit jarring between scenes, but overall this is a pleasantly disorienting tumble into a classic comedy.
Voices Found Repertory’s production of Twelfth Night has four more performances left through May 14 at the Arcade Theatre in the Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For more information, visit Voices Found online.