The I.R.T. Del-Sign Project involves double-casting a show with "regular" actors and mute, signing ones. The signing actors simultaneously and alternately act out scenes alongside the speaking ones. The effect is one of aesthetic overload, but it is also liberating, as the signing actors provide a wealth of subtext for their speaking colleagues. (And certainly appropriate for this play about doubles.)
This Twelfth Night ran the risk of overburdening the text with cute shtick, a danger with Shakespeare, but fell short of that lamentable state with a briskly paced, highly original staging and performances that ranged from solid to inspired. (Unless otherwise mentioned, the actors mentioned represent the speaking halves of each duop; readers desirous of a plot summary are referred to Cole's Notes.)
The "mature" love interests (Roy Arias as the Duke and Edie Senter as Olivia) played it straight, even a little bland. Arias sometimes had audibility and clarity problems. Gerald Small as Orsino's signing half offered a witty counterpoint.
Greg Jackson as Malvolio was genuinely likable, an unusual choice - and a demanding one for actor and audience. (The imprisonment scene was cut, no doubt for length reasons, thereby undercutting an opportunity to turn up the volume on Malvolio's anguish.)
Among the lighter people, producer Jonathan Fluck turned in a Feste as thoroughly charming vaudevillian, with a rakish hat. Rachel Fowler's Maria was a Brooklyn floozie (the "buttery bar" was between her legs). Mark McGriff's Aguecheek could have stepped from the pages of P. G. Wodehouse. And Matthew Gray gave a solid Belch.
The younger love interests, Craig Pearlburg and Trish Geiger as Sebastian and Viola, offered a wryness (in his case) and a levelheadedness (in hers) that balanced the hallucinatory wackiness of the rest of Illyria. Guy Rose, as Antonio, applied the lower-class dialect even more thickly than Maria, to the point where it threatened to subsume the rest of his interpretation. (Also featuring Larry Coke, Catherine Mueller, David Craig Rosenberg, Mimi Craig, Sheila Morgan, Andrew Brown, James Fackler, Meghan Jeffries, Robert Casteline, Josh Fanaroff, Terry Lynn LeCompt, Kori Schneider, Michael Higgins, and Maria Alaina Mason.)
The directors did a marvelous job of managing the vast palette presented by this concept, although they sometimes blocked speaking actors upstage of clumps of signing ones - a choice that might have hewed closely to the theoreticaly template for the production but an unnecessary one. One lovely scene was a pantomimed shipwreck at the beginning, with the sea represented by a piece of blue cloth and references to Titanic. There were many opportunities, gleefully exploited, for signing characters to interact with speaking ones. (The letter scene was masterful.)
Maria Zannieri filled many a moment with spontaneous-seeming choreography, and Ian Rose directed the fight scenes well. Costumier Vivian Lynn Hasbrouk fitted the throngs in lovely, colorful variations of vaguely '30s-ish garb (including a beautiful green dress for the signing Olivia), warmly attuned to the lighting palette of Izzy Einsidler. The set (Meryl Rosner) comprised expressionistic, posterlike paintings suggesting the Times Square of yesteryear.
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Copyright 1998 John Chatterton