When you go to an Off-Off-Broadway production of Shakespeare, you can usually count on the script being good, even if the production is weak. When you go to a show performed in a bar, you can usually count on the crowd being good, even if the production is sloppy. But with Twelfth Night: The Drinking Game, returning after a sold-out run last March at the Slipper Room, you can actually count on the evening being good, even if the production isn't polished. The Legitimate Theater Company has hit on a new and innovative way to bring the Bard to the people: make it bawdy, make it fun, and give the people plenty of excuses to drink. The space they've chosen, a bar with an adorable proscenium at one end, is just small enough to allow for lightly microphoned performances but large enough to hold an audience and a separate drinking area. The audience is split into teams and is cued (by a blue card, a red card, or two "flipped birds") when to drink. Then the tale of mistaken identities, gender reversals, and (appropriately enough) drunken revelries plays out, with much consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The surprising thing about the show, besides how well suited it is to the gimmick, is that there were some adventurous takes on roles that are usually cut-and-dried (and often dry). Sir Toby Belch, normally played as a ridiculous old boozehound, is portrayed by Jordan Smith as a harmless, aging frat boy. His partner in crime, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, has been transformed from a cowardly fop into a dim good ol' boy, with Jesse Wilson breathing new life and conviction into every line in a very likable performance.
Kent Meister's Orsino works a sexy/sleazy angle that appeals to the feisty Viola, disguised as his manservant Cesario. But Orsino's behavior with the guys is far different from his fawning conduct toward the mourning Olivia (Morgan Anne Zipf), who doesn't go for him. Viola (Megan Sara Kingery), desperate for her master's approval, sets about wooing Olivia for Orsino, but Viola's ardent speech and indifferent attitude make Olivia fall for Viola's male persona.
There are more outrageous and modern-day tweaks to the text. The relationship between the leather-clad sailor Antonio and pretty boy Sebastian (whom Antonio saved from drowning) is more intimate than avuncular. Maria (Molly Pope) is more slutty wench than saucy handmaiden. Oh, and most of the male characters seem to be almost equally interested in the same sex as in the opposite one. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
This is a very physical, sexual show, with any subtle naughty references made abundantly clear. The staging is frenetic, with the actors sitting in front of the audience and jumping on and off the stage for their cues. Their energy and passion for the material is infectious, and even if the second half is slowed down by plot machinations and a near absence of drinking cues, the performers managed to win over the audience by the end.
For drinkers, this show might bring them to the theater more often. And for theatergoers, it might bring them to the bar more frequently.