The current production of "Twelfth Night" playing at The Flea Theater marks Queens Shakespeare’s Manhattan debut. It also marks the first time this critic ever witnessed a Shakespeare play in which colorful eclectic costumes so completely upstaged the actors wearing them. From an emerald toga to a drunk’s blue kimono, from a gold lame dress to a harlequin’s purple velvet attire, from menacing masks to an actress in masculine jacket and pants with white feather wings (yes, these are a few of stage manager/costume designer Tara Mary Schmitt’s inventive things), "Twelfth Night" in Tribeca is practically Shakespeare on the catwalk.
Now if only director Nanette Asher had been as inspired as the rest of her busy crew, including actor/production manager/lighting and scenic designer Jonathan Emerson who gives this unspecific "Twelfth Night" (according to the program it’s set “then and now” over “there and here”) a strong sense of atmosphere with only a couple of strategically placed potted plants and the occasional starfish. Indeed, one wishes that "Twelfth Night" might be freed from its confining black box and performed outdoors if only for the real risk street theater always affords. For other than petite Anne Roser who plays the shipwrecked Viola who lands in Illyria – who disguises herself as a boy eunuch to serve Count Orsino who falls for Lady Olivia who falls for Viola – the actors in this "Twelfth Night" are simply playing to Shakespeare’s ancient words, not searching for deep meaning in them. They’re drifting through Asher’s predictable staging, coming and going on cue like clockwork, acting in broad strokes and anticipating lines instead of truly listening to one another, and reacting to that which the moment brings.
Unfortunately, the director just hasn’t taken "Twelfth Night" in any fresh and vibrant 21st century direction that would have challenged both cast and audience. Even the teasing out of the gender and sexuality aspects inherent in the Bard’s work is merely a throwback to the original playing with gender and sexuality practiced in Elizabethan times. Which is a shame since "Twelfth Night" is still very vibrantly alive, just waiting to be discovered like that young woman washed ashore in the Mediterranean so many centuries ago.