BY BRANDON LAFVING I came expecting theater. If that is a crime, let me be guilty. Pig Iron is, in fact, a Theater Company, and, as the name suggests, they produce what people in the know refer to as plays. So when I walked into the Suzanne Roberts Theater* on opening night I expected to see a modern version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will and what I got was a head-spinning nexus of performing arts genres that brought together dance, theater, and opera onto a single stage. Not that I’m complaining. Most directors do not even consider using many of the elements that make Pig Iron’s Twelfth Night such a unique and enriching experience. Let’s start with the staging. The players utilize the kind of quarter pipe you would ordinarily see at skateboard parks, and they used it for every conceivable service: a means of entrance, exit, and, at times, as a springboard for the kind of dance moves rendered iconic by Fred Astaire in Dancing in the Rain. There is also an arresting original score which often sounds like Balkan Gypsy music. The costume design is equally inventive in its use of modern garb to dress a play written more than 400 years ago. Sir Toby arrived onstage for the second scene wearing a playboy’s purple silk robe which he was too inebriated to keep fastened, flashing the audience with glimpses of black boxers spotted with what appeared to be pairs of large owl eyes. Out of shock or rapture I forgot to blink. Underneath the freewheeling façade, the nuts and bolts of the comedy displayed a respectful and appreciative scholarship. The screenplay took several inspired detours from the original script. Think scalpel, not sledgehammer, so the plot remains the same as it ever was. Likewise, the cast — who were waxing poetic with half-a-millenium old language – looked like they had been yanked from the bar stools of any number of down market Center City watering holes. Birgit Huppuch’s compulsive, geeky Lady Olivia was particularly brilliant. Michael Sean McGuinness, a Shakespeare veteran, plays Malvolio like an old, snobby British butler only to be endlessly ridiculed when he enters the stage in canary yellow stockings, criss-crossed with black leather. The entire cast was so approachable and I wanted to invite myself to the after party but thought better of it — the drunken revelry onstage was so convincing, I was sure there would be a bar fight, or at least a lot of vomiting. Not everything worked. During some of the monologues ancillary characters would chase each other about the stage, or perform similarly childish antics that distracted and annoyed. But more often than not, the director’s choices drew attention to the text, not away from it. When Malvolio becomes convinced that the Lady Olivia is in love with him, the stage goes black but for a spotlight on him, as the very characters who conspired against him throw rose petals over his head, completing the image of love, as well as the spell they had cast over him. Nice. All told, I can see why Pig Iron enjoys such a golden rep. I came for the Shakespeare but stayed for the show. And while it may not be the proverbial Greatest Show On Earth, there were moments where it was damn close.
*I am the only one who thinks it’s really obnoxious to name a theater after yourself? We get it, you’re rich because your husband owns a massive cable TV monopoly and gouges large numbers of Americans and you like theater and wanted to give the dramatic arts another home in the city. All well and good. But the whole point of doing a good deed is NOT worrying about getting the credit. Think about it, Suzanne.