Ah youth. I know…it's wasted on the young. Fortunately, the youthful members of Fiasco Theater aren't wasting a moment of theirs. I really love the no-guts-no-glory exuberance of this company. These rambunctious prodigies are of the unfashionable conviction that the performer, the text and the audience are all that are needed to make great theater. Thus they are using their considerable brains, passion and talent to create theater that is rooted in tradition and yet somehow feels completely new.
When I entered the Access Theater to see Fiasco's splendid new production of Twelfth Night, it felt less like a theater than a town square - perhaps an Italian piazza where a commedia troupe was about to perform. Costumed actors greeted patrons, tuned musical instruments and warmed up without any apparent self-consciousness. The spirit of generosity and vitality continued during intermission as the actors took turns cranking a huge fan aimed at their rapt (and perspiring) audience. The ardent desire to entertain and communicate - to connect - was palpable.
Directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (who also act in the production) have devised a beguiling and imaginative visual style inspired by the "steampunk" genre. Hence the simple costumes and even simpler set evoke an early twentieth-century feel without being too literal. And true to the organic Fiasco approach, the play's sounds and music are completely actor-generated. The cast of eight make sound effects (that huge fan, a vintage wind machine) as well as singing period songs in robust harmony and playing the cello, guitar, and flute. The staging is fluid and ingenious: a sheet become a sail, a table becomes a mirror, a prison cell and a car. And when was the last time an entire scene was staged in pitch darkness? Risky. And brilliant.
Classical acting requires extraordinary technique and discipline. Any Shakespearean production I've even seen has succeeded (or failed) primarily on the clarity of its language. In this, the Fiasco actors are peerless. Their diction, phrasing, and understanding of the text are uniformly superb. Shakespeare's tale of love and madness is rendered with exquisite skill both verbally and physically. It's an ensemble show that demonstrates what a group of artists can achieve when they collaborate with a common vision. And they look like they're having the time of their lives. I certainly did.
For more on Fiasco Theater and Twelfth Night check out theasy's June Featured Artist interview here.
(Twelfth Night plays at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway at White Street in Tribeca, through June 20, 2010. Performances are Wednesdays through Sundays at 8pm with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, June 19th. Tickets are $18 and are available at www.smarttix.com. More info at www.fiascotheater.com.)