Little West 12th Night, produced by Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, delves into the history of the Meatpacking District from the arrival of Henry Hudson to the gay club scene of the 70’s. But, it is by no means some cut and dry history lesson. Our tour guide for the evening, Frankie, played by Rachel Murdy — who also conceived the piece — didn’t just recreate Feste (the court jester of Twelfth Night) as an innocuous New Yorker. Oh, no. She transformed the character into an institution of the neighborhood. Referring both disdainfully and endearingly to the constantly evolving district as “MePa,” Frankie evokes a relic of a bygone era in her eccentric, friendly demeanor. Wheeling around with her fuzzy-pink-capped, ex-meatpacker, poet, protÃ©gÃ© Fabian, played by Kevin Bunge, the odd duo host an intimate and informative evening romp. From brothel to slaughterhouse to swanky hotel room ””complete with bubbly, no less”” the experience is one that captivates our imaginations and our senses with a spontaneous and all encompassing force.
But the educational aspect, lest we forget, merely scratches the surface of what this production is attempting to achieve. Employing Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as the structure of the performance, writer Peter Lettre devises a modern twist for each of the protagonists while creating an intricate and lively puzzle of intersecting plots. Skillfully orchestrated by director Cynthia Coot, brief encounters with other tour groups and various characters reveal insight into the imaginary world floating — or perhaps at times sprinting — all around us. The performance consists of four distinct tours led by Toby & Agucheek (cleverly readapted as prep school douche bags), Mariah (lady in waiting turned personal assistant), Antonia (perhaps the most liberal adaptation as displaced punk kid), and, of course, Frankie & Fabian. Though we only catch glimpses of the other guides throughout the course of the tour, each actor’s intent is clear and their personality is uniquely amusing.
Capitalizing on the striking architectural modernity and the gritty remnants of the industrial past, design consultants David Barber and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew consistently achieve a provocative backdrop from an array of vantage points. Pushing the upstairs/downstairs element of the original play to epic proportions, The Standard Hotel cleverly serves as the home of Olivia Gansevoort, heiress — for theatrical purposes — to hotel mogul, Charles Gansevoort. Holed up in her luxury fortress, a dramatically macabre ‘Liv, played by Siouxsie Suarez, mourns the recent death of her brother and father. Below on the High Line, Orsino, played by Dave Bennett, obsessively pines for her love.
Though over-exaggerated, their performances stem from the nature and necessity of the piece: serving to heighten humor and differentiate between illusion and reality. As all characters converge at the tour terminus for a chaotic, comic climax, those both familiar and unfamiliar with the story could find the ending somewhat baffling. The theme of mistaken identity, so prominent in the original, is lost in the cacophony of the finale. For example, it is unclear why Sebastian, played by Lenny Ciotti, avoids his convincingly distraught sister Viola, played by Connie Hall, throughout the entire performance. Or, what exactly the relationship is between the cast and Antonia (who as Antonio in Shakespeare’s version clearly harbors homoerotic feelings for Sebastian.) There is no doubt, however, that you, along with unassuming High Line visitors, will be entertained by the outrageous physical comedy of Malvolio, played by Taylor Valentine. So perhaps if you wish to grasp the entire story, view these challenges as incentive to take the stroll all four times, once with each guide.
From beginning to end, I found myself hyper aware of that which was unfolding around me””and yet I was consistently caught off guard. Upon arriving at the “secret location,” I was certain the windswept, redhead in a stunning green dress perched in the center of the lawn must be Viola”¦ until she picked up her cell phone and headed toward Morimoto. Similarly, what from my peripheral vision appeared to be a sweaty jogger making his way home from a vigorous run along the West Side Highway was none other than the shipwrecked Sebastian sopping wet and in a sour disposition. Quite simply, Little West 12th Night appears to melt into the Meatpacking District, blurring the edges of reality and theatricality. At times, I found myself pondering what deal they must have made with the devil when, at the most opportune moments, epic bouts of lightening darted across the sky. Or, when listening to Fabian expound upon the meat packing process, the pungent smell of eviscerated cow carcass seemed to seep out of the old Gansevoort Market. Awakening the audience’s senses, the production calls upon us to witness the beauty and decay of an ever-progressing neighborhood through a nostalgic lens.
Little West 12th Night is a new breed of interactive theatre. Weaving together the drama of the cityscape and the theatricality of its inhabitants, this experience compels you to look at your surroundings in a whole new way. This piece takes “the world is a stage” to a creatively literal level, where you find yourself questioning and examining every aspect of your environment. Little West 12th Night encourages you to become an integral part of the fabric, the history and the ephemeral nature of New York City and that which makes it unique.
Presented as a part of the July 2012 undergroundzero festival that runs from June 29 to July 29, Little West 12th Night performs Sunday and Monday Nights at 8pm offering a final show/sunrise special on Monday July 30th at 7am.
Tickets are $25 and include cake. Meeting locations are emailed 24 hours after ticket purchase.
To purchase tickets please click, here.
To learn more about Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant and their upcoming project please visit their website. If you’d like to check out other innovative festival offerings, please view the undergroundzero schedule.