When theater companies try to reinvent
Shakespeare, the result is often an aberration that may distort,
rather than develop, the work. But thriftshop theatre workshop
seems to have a knack for reinterpreting the Bard in ways that
are both meaningful and creative.
As the summer nears its end, the company presents "Free
Shakespeare on the Waterfront," four afternoon performances
of condensed versions of "Twelfth Night" and "Hamlet."
The double-bill began last weekend and continues Sept. 3-4 inside
a tent at the Tobacco Warehouse in Empire-Fulton Ferry State
Nina Pinchin directs both of these lean and lively adaptations
by Kevin Connell for thriftshop theatre workshop. (The company’s
name is spelled all lowercase.) Her stage is bare, save for a
free-standing puppet theater upstage which is flanked by rows
of facing chairs. The actors sit on the chairs awaiting their
cues to enter the action of the play, and it’s truly amazing
how well this technique works for both the comedy and the tragedy.
"Twelfth Night" is one of Shakespeare’s broadest and
bawdiest comedies. It is about how the melancholy, self-involved
Duke Orsino hopelessly woos the melancholy, self-involved Olivia
who has vowed to mourn her dead brother for seven years. There’s
also Shakespeare’s traditional mistaken identities, cross-dressing
and a subplot involving Olivia’s uncle, the wastrel Sir Toby
Belch and his sycophant, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (also trying to
court Olivia); and her misanthropic, prudish steward, Malvolio;
her fool, Feste; and her maid, Maria.
Thriftshop theater workshop performs the play in a vaudevillian
style achieved through music and dance and, most delightfully,
with the help of David Withrow’s colorful and outlandish costumes.
Sir Andrew very appropriately becomes a puppet manipulated by
Sir Toby (the excellent Luke Hancock) – a highlight of the production.
"Twelfth Night" is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.
Thriftshop’s production of "Hamlet" brings new insights
to Shakespeare’s play about the Danish prince’s vacillation and
eventual revenge against the murdering usurper who has become
Set in New York City during Prohibition, King Claudius becomes
a crime family boss, and Hamlet’s two friends become the flappers
Rosie Crantz and Goldie Stern.
Michael Gianakos is riveting and entirely believable as the truculent
and thoughtful prince. Toting a pistol and dressed in black,
he is a Brando-like tough guy – both rash and thoughtful. His
"To be or not to be ," delivered after he puts a gun
to his head and contemplates pulling the trigger, is outstanding.
Joe Lattanzi’s Laertes is a refreshing picture of how this innocent
boy becomes the victim of Hamlet’s dysfunctional family. He is
a likable young man who is bored with the advice of Polonius,
his father – demonstrated with a streak of directorial genius
when Lattanzi joins his father in that famous line, "to
thine own self be true." Clearly this Laertes has heard
the line many times before. But if he knows his father for the
pompous fool his is, Laertes nevertheless loves the man and is
willing to die defending his family’s honor.
William DeMeritt, who played the ridiculous Malvolio in "Twelfth
Night," now becomes the unscrupulous Claudius – a remarkable
and very well-done transformation.
Most fascinating, Connell’s cuts seem to make the tragedy sharper
and more accessible, sacrificing none of the language that makes
this play legendary.
Often in professional theater, by the time an actor gets to play
the plum parts in Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy, they are
too old for the roles. But if the director decides to go with
younger actors, frequently they are not up to the demands of
the characterization. Happily, thriftshop has found actors who
combine youth and talent in a way that is startlingly effective.
And then there’s thriftshop theatre workshop’s daring to present
a comedy – followed by a tragedy – with only a 20-minute intermission
for the audience to clear its palate. These productions by the
waterfront were indeed like a breath of fresh air.
Thriftshop theatre workshop presents "Twelfth Night"
at 3 pm and "Hamlet" at 5 pm, both on Sept. 3 and 4
in the Tobacco Warehouse. All performances are free and open
to the public. Enter Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park at Water
and New Dock streets. For more information, call (718) 802-0603
or visit the Web site at www.bbpc.net.