photograph: courtesy of the hypocrites
If you’ve got a pulse, you’ll be chortling uncontrollably five minutes into 12 Nights, the Hypocrites’ stripped down and delightfully wacky re-appropriation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The spirit of giddy zaniness permeating the Hypocrites’ latest outing is downright infectious.
Directed and adapted by Sean Graney, the piece, which also draws from Barnabe Riche’s Apolonius and Silla as well as the anonymously penned Italian play Gl’Ingannati, is also improbably intelligent, broadly played, and as smart as it is silly. It takes a rare blend of wise foolery to merge the slapstick sensibility of the Three Stooges with the sublime poetry of the Bard, but Graney and his energetically daffy four-person cast have done just that.
Played out on a vibrant green square of Astroturf, 12 Nights gambols along for roughly 75 minutes threaded with the cheesiest of the cheesiest of iconic ’80s power ballads. While Count Orsino, a lovesick lad, says “If music be the food of love, play on” in Shakespeare’s famous text, here, Orsino channels 1989-era John Cusack, boom box hoisted high, Peter Gabriel lyrics reverberating through the rainbow-striped Illyria the Hypocrites have fashioned from Chopin’s basement.
With each cast member doubling and, at times, tripling-up on roles, Shakespeare’s undeniably hokey tale takes on a manic pace. 12 Nights contains all the usual suspects of a Shakespearean rom-com: Mistaken identities, gender confusion, and a happily-ever-after ending that culminates in multiple marriages. Working minimal production values—costumes are essentially regular old street clothes, the Astroturf set is bare but for the all-important boom box, the lighting design wholly lacking in gels and flash—the ensemble (Zeke Sulkes, Tien Doman, Christine Stulik, Jeff Trainor) leaps into the romantic fray with gusto.
Playing a woman who is disguised as a man for much of the plot, Sulkes proves himself to be a deft and clever comedian. Doman is also terrific portraying both the boisterous, hard-partying ladies’ maid Maria and the puritanically uptight, aptly named Malvolio. Stulik brings a doe-eyed vulnerability to her various roles while Trainor embodies oafishness and innocence to marvelous effect. On the slim chance that the onstage shenanigans don’t elevate your mood, the double stuffed Oreos and bubble gum (courtesy of the Hypocrites) surely will.
12 Nights continues through Oct. 6 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. Tickets are $28