Monday, February 22, 2010

Twelfth Night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

I wanted to do another post about Hamlet, but every time I thought about it I was gripped with a passionate malaise and I wound up writing a bunch of nonsense.
I went to a production of Twelfth Night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery this weekend. It was pretty good.
They screen movies at the cemetery at midnight during the summer months and I've never been. I'm not much for midnight movies anymore. I tend to fall asleep. Also I don't really enjoy watching movies while sitting outdoors either. There are all sorts of discomforts -- moisture, critters, chilliness -- and I'd rather be inside and warm and cozy. That's a sure sign of aging, isn't it?
But Twelfth Night was being performed in a little theater that was a converted chapel. It's a nice space for this show. The seats were set up around the perimeter and all the action was in the middle. It was a matinee, so there was a little column of light cascading in from a stained glass window, not unlike the light that falls into the map room in Indiana Jones and points the way to the well of souls.
The comedy in this production was pretty awesome. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and the mayhem they caused was fun, but it was really Charles Janasz as Malvolio who stole the show. His oppressive grimace was spot-on and watching him piece together the contents of the forged love letter was like watching Chico interpret Harpo's whistle-narrated semaphores telling him that they have to stop Groucho from being seduced by the blonde bombshell before Margaret Dumont catches him and the sweet kid who's depending on them will lose her family hotel/sanitarium/opera house/department store.
Actually, the production was like a Marx Brothers movie in a lot of ways. You sort of had to meander through the underwhelming Olivia - Viola - Orsino love triangle in order to get to the marvelous comedy. The same is true in a number of Marx Brothers movies where Zeppo or Allan Jones has some yawntastic love story that you tolerate because the goofy is so very pleasing.
There was also live music accompanying the show (in addition to the Fool plucking away at intervals). But there was a hipster quality to the costuming and style of the show and that spilled over into the music, which worked all right for some of the tunes, but when it came to the end of the show... well, frankly it was sad. And Twelfth Night is not a show that should leave you sad. I guess that's what happens when Malvolio is the character we love the most and in the last scene he marches off stage in tatters proclaiming that he will be revenged upon everyone.
The last line of the play should be filled with joy and revelry and a promise for future delights:
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you everyday. (5:1)
But the odd, ethereal melody made it a little bit disconcerting. I sort of didn't want them to strive to please me everyday if this was the music they were going to use. Moody indie-rock was an appropriate selection for the scene in the kitchen when the fool plays for Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. It is set up thusly:

FOOL: Would you have a love song or a song of good life?
TOBY: A love song, a love song.
ANDREW: Ay, ay, I care not for good life. (2:3)

I don't know though. Sir Andrew does have a good point. As John Cusack says in High Fidelity: "Which came first, the music or the misery?" Love and melancholy are too closely intertwined. Maybe it's more appropriate in modern times that even in a happy ending, we are sad. It's not like the Fool falls in love at the end of the play, so if he's going to sing a song, it should be a minstrel's lament. He's a wayfaring clown, and it's his lot to wander and witness the bliss of everyone his comedy touches. But he has no access to that bliss himself. Like Michael Landon in Highway to Heaven, his wings are constantly eluding him.
       Maybe they'll be there, around the corner, in the next town, on the next stage, in the next session of comic romance where he facilitates love and mocks misery with his sad bastard music and his rocky wit.

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