Review: “12th Nighted” and “Fire on Babylon” at Fresh Fruit Festival 2016 at the Wild Project

Review: “12th Nighted” and “Fire on Babylon” at Fresh Fruit Festival 2016 at the Wild Project

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Columnist

Hands down, Patrick Thomas McCarthy has written a slam-dunk retelling of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” aptly entitled “12th Nighted” which enjoyed its final performance at Fresh Fruit Festival 2016 on Sunday July 17, 2016 at the Wild Project. There are familiar characters: Cesario and Viola (Alexandra Bonesho); Olivia (Anne Pasquale); Maria (Alyssa Abraham); Melvolio (Keith Herron); and Toby (David Palmer Brown). And there are reimagined and additional characters to the Shakespearean roster. Four couples – rather than two – find wedded bliss: one of the couples is Viola’s adopted gay son Francesco Assisi (Lorenzo Lucchetti) and Antonio Argento (Keith Herron) creator of rather risqué Holy Pictures using Vito Vittorio Vitale (Jonathan E. Barker) – aka Viola’s twin orphaned brother Sebastian – as his near naked model.

Although the shenanigans are mostly reminiscent of Shakespeare’s 1600 celebration of the end of the long Christmas season, playwright McCarthy has supercharged the iconic “mature comedy” with a delightful LGBTQ flair set in “gay, swinging, 1960s Little Italy in New York City.” The members of the ensemble cast (which includes Blaine Mizer who stands in for Malvolio) uniformly deliver well-developed outrageous characters whose unique and believable conflicts drive “12th Nighted’s” madcap post-Shakespearean plot.

Director Patrick Aran keeps the antics moving along; however, there is room for a quicker pace at times to keep the farce from bogging down. And there are some scenes which could easily be cut by a few minutes each. This would tighten the play a bit and make it even more engaging and entertaining.

As it stands, Mr. McCarthy’s retelling is a splendid way to celebrate - as Maria states – the need for all of us to do what we need to do “to get along” – as you will as it were. There is a myriad of references to the canon of the American musical theatre, including nods at “Hello, Dolly” and “Carousel” and others even the characters find a bit shocking. 

Production and sound design by Katherine Hammond. Lights, set, and props design by Patrick Aran. Costume coordination by Susan Cook. Stage management by Joannis Bakageorgos.
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The thought provoking drama “Fire On Babylon” by Michael Raver concluded a short run on Sunday June 17th as part of the 2016 Fresh Fruit Festival, leaving behind what seemed to be a satisfied and appreciative audience. It is an intriguing story that keeps the viewer interested but at times confused. All the elements of the mysterious meeting between disillusioned author and protégé come into place but the outcome seems disconnected from the purposeful action that drives the plot. The dialogue at times is pure rhetoric, which although provides good exposition, fails to humanize the characters or support their attraction to each other beyond the physical. Intellect and emotions fluctuate too quickly in order to serve the action and results in undermining both character development and credibility. 

Michael Raver (Christian Snow) along with co-star Jeffrey Hayenga (Hugo Thomas) bring a certain dynamic to the relationship that fuels the script and creates a viable situation. Both actors are skilled craftsmen, relying on their presence, rather than the words to convey their emotions. They serve the script well and provide the necessary pugnacious outbursts with honesty and sincerity. Their prowess and instinctive ability produce an interesting and comprehensive two-hander.

Confusion occurs when during a brief time lapse blackout both actors return to the stage undressed and only in underwear. One assumes they encountered a sexual experience which seems to sabotage the remaining story and ending. After all is said, perhaps a better balance between, script, actors and direction would result in a tighter production. It would be a pleasure to see this work in its next incarnation and a wise decision to keep an eye on this young promising new voice in American theater.

Directed by Paul Mason Barnes. Scenic design by Marc Wheeler. Costume design by Edward Ray Kiely. Lighting supervision by Phil Monat. Sound design by Matt Tibbs.


12TH NIGHTED AND FIRE ON BABYLON

“12th Nighted” and “Fire on Babylon” closed on Sunday July 17, 2016. Fresh Fruit Festival 2016 continues through Sunday July 24, 2016. For the complete schedule of performances, please visit http://www.freshfruitfestival.com/.  All performances are at the wild project (195 E. 3rd Street, between Avenues A & B). Tickets can be purchased from OvationTix on 212.352.3101 or online at http://www.thewildproject.com.

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