Like a runaway train, Last Metro Company’s inaugural production of What You Will: or, Twelfth Night crashes into the fourth wall with such force that its debris afterbirth would rival that of Iceland’s latest upchuck. This is an ambitious feat for the fledgling theater company, whose founding members Frank Astran, Lovelle Liquigan, and Christine Terrisse opted to trade in their apartment play readings for this roomier arena with ample legroom.
Enter The Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Sherman Oaks, CA—a venue that’s seen a lot of leg. The dance space-turned-theater is decorated with scant draping and gauzy curtains to block out the wall-to-wall mirrors and doors. There’s Cabaret style seating with tables and chairs sectioned off along the outskirts of the floor, each tabletop bearing individual character nameplates. A packed house seats about 20, and it was as packed as it could get. Guests are amiably greeted by a very accommodating host who is stationed at a counter that doubles as the ticket office/makeshift bar near the entrance. Refreshments and cookies keep insulin levels high, while patrons nibble and socialize at their tables. The layout needs more polishing—perhaps a lone candle for the cabaret-intentioned tablescape. The only prop markers are twin futons wrapped in florescent green fabric positioned at opposite ends of center stage.
Signaling the start of the play is an explosion of music ushering in a dancing troop of revelers clad in Mardi Gras masks and sequins. They gyrate and twirl, whistle and shout to tunes that may have been on loan from Arthur Murray’s mambo collection. The volume is too loud and the merrymaking, in an effort to lighten up the crowd, produces the opposite reaction when the actors start pulling audience members up to join the dance. This is the first painful crack against the fourth wall. Interactive performances are pleasant enough, but the old ‘turn around the room’ with your P.O.W. is no longer kosher.
It’s just awkward.
So when one is forced to watch a hostage crisis unfolding onstage, it certainly does not encourage the ‘relax and enjoy the show’ maxim. The lady at our table mumbled an “Oh God” before she was plucked up and away from the traitor arms of her laughing boyfriend. Rest assured they gave her back to us—eventually.
Shipwrecked twins Sebastian (Erwin Tuazon) and Viola (Lovelle Liquigan) perform an interpretive underwater dance. For those familiar with the plot, this moment is admirable handling of the siblings’ separation; however, the abrupt shift in mood from partying to pantomime may confuse a first-Nighter.
Duke Orsino, played by Chris Greenwood, picks up where the dance party leaves off and rushes into his famous soliloquy about music, food and love as an address to the audience. Despite his commanding stature and baritone, Greenwood’s delivery lacks power due to his constant pacing about. It’s difficult to keep up with those beautiful lines because they’re never given enough time to permeate the air without being blown askew by Greenwood’s incessant movements.
Erika Godwin’s Olivia is a highlight. She glides in with servant Maria (Christine Terrisse) in tow and is at first striking in appearance with her raven hair and sharp features. Godwin’s mourning ensemble is a black-laced bodice with flowing skirts of tulle and an odd looking gold train of fabric pinned to her back. Hand her a whip and the audience would have no problem submitting to this shrill and wily Olivia.
Zack Price and Jake Brown play the terrible-troublesome twosome of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, respectively. Price plays drunk and sloppy quite comfortably, maybe because he’s had a few notches on his Belch as Sir Toby in past productions. Brown’s Sir Andrew is hyper—a departure from the text’s slow-tongued Aguecheek—and just seems to be running on a lot of coffee. These two conspire with the busty temptress Maria (Terrisse) to bring down Olivia’s steward Malvolio, played by Max Smythe. With a slithering voice and a presence that can induce a cold sweat, Smythe is the outcast at which you uncomfortably laugh. This subplot can either be comedic or melancholic; here it seems to be dangerously split down the middle. Malvolio, Sir Toby and Andrew hold the comedic foil for a good run, but the mood shifts to the dramatic during Malvolio’s imprisonment. As the fallen steward grows desperate, Feste the clown, spritely played by Caryn Crye, takes pleasure in taunting him.
And yet equal parts comedy and drama are not cohesive enough to balance the weak romance in this production. Despite Liquigan’s poignant portrayal of Viola/Cesario, the chemistry is lacking between her character and Greenwood’s Orsino.
Textually speaking, Twelfth Night is easy to navigate through, but there are instances during this performance where the text is simply lost. Rhyme and meter are ignored; lines are spoken too hastily and bleed into others; the music doesn’t fade out in time for the audience to catch the words, and facial expressions overpower what is probably feared to be dead air.
The start-up years of a theater company are rough and unforgiving, and first impressions bear the brunt of shrewd public opinion. This is Shakespeare you’re playing with. Last Metro Company is no exception. They know this and are brave anyway. Twelfth Night, or perhaps applicable here is the more befitting alternate title of What You Will, is celebrated for its multiplicity of characters and accessibility. Last Metro Company is not so different. It is a non-profit theater where founders play actors, actors play costume designers, costume designers play make-up artists, and make-up artists play set designers. Notwithstanding the limitations, maybe this is the perfect inaugural performance for LMC's zany troupe of actors. They are a multiplicity of friends who want to nourish their passions and do away with the politics. They even plastered their own party masks! And now I’m thinking they probably could care less about this review, so do with it what you will, right?
What You Will: or Twelfth Night runs April 3 – April 18, 2010 at the Arthur Miller Dance Studio, 4633 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks CA 91403. Information can be found by visiting their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/thelastmetrocompany.