Fugitive Kind Theater Imagines the Morning After Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'
Even amid the persistently frisky playfulness of Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, one character avers early on that "My stars shine darkly over me. The malignancy of my fate might perhaps distemper yours." In the Fugitive Kind theater company's Shine Darkly, Illyria, a conceptual and sequential follow-up to Twelfth Night, resident playwright Meghan Brown imagines a dystopian aftermath to the rolicking Elizabethan classic in which all of the original's carefree exuberance has culminated in a careless obliviousness that has brought Illyria to the ominous brink of environmental destruction.
A familiarity with the original Twelfth Night is not required in order to follow the proceedings in Shine Darkly, Illyria, but it may be hard to become emotionally immersed in all the romantic and existential dilemmas of the new play without that background. Given the Bard's pre-existing characters, Brown and director Amanda McRaven are driven more by thematic considerations than by the creation and individuation of original personalities here, even when the relations from the earlier play get picked up, so feel free and encouraged to brush up your Shakespeare before tackling this one.
Brown's program note lists a series of creative questions that she and her FK colleagues asked themselves in the development of this production, including "What's the best way to integrate pole dancing into a Shakespeare adaptation?" and "What if people could get high off of space dust?" as well as "What scares us most about the world? What do we want to change? What do we continue to ignore, ignore, ignore?" Well, the pole dancer here is the personified figure of the Moon (Alana Marie Cheuvront), whom the increasingly decadent Illyrians, led by their Countess Olivia (Mercedes Manning), the play's designated space dust addict, have taken to worshiping in unrestrained "moondance" ceremonies. What Olivia and most of her followers ignore, ignore, ignore in their self-absorbed revelries is the threat that their island will soon be engulfed by the rising waters around it. There's also the problem that no one is having any children.
There are several enjoyable moments in Shine Darkly, Illyria, including an ensemble ukelele song and dance number ("Do you think everyone could learn to play a few ukelele chords?" was another one of Brown and company's identified creative challenges) led by Jason Vande Brake as Orsino. Vande Brake is also at the center of the play's funniest scene when he downplays the significance of romantic loss given everything else that's going on in the universe. There's a strong scene between twin siblings Viola (Sage Howard Simpson) and Sebastian (Jim Senti). Benny Will's diatribe against the moon is compelling, too.
Some of the other romantic scenes and angsty interactions extending the relationships established in Twelfth Night are less intriguing, and the charm of the Moon's communications with her earthly devotees via two cans at the ends of a string wears out before long.
It would have been interesting if Brown and McRaven had considered more explicitly the question of whether the damaged society they show us in Illyria has ensued as a direct result of the "What You Will" ethic underlying Twelfth Night. Given the striking tonal differences between the two plays, after all, we may well wonder how a domain that was once so effervescent turned dim so fast. But this stark contrast is never substantially explained or accounted for and whatever forces may have stimulated the island's atmospheric shifts are unidentified.
Ray Salas's sound effects and Allison Dillard's costumes are perfectly on point, and Karyn Lawrence's lighting design limns the action strikingly. Choreography by Jessica DiBattista nicely enhances some of the ensemble scenes.
Shine Darkly, Illyria plays Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 4 and 8, and Sundays at 3 and 7 through May 29 at the McCadden Place Theatre in Hollywood. Evening tickets $22 and (for students, teachers and military with ID) $17, matinees "Pay What You Think It's Worth."