Imagine if you will: Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will, performed in the style of Bollywood. We watch from our blankets on a hillside under the stars in Austin, TX. A hazy crescent moon smiles down on the production.
Central Texas residents, you have two more nights to catch this unique, free, outdoor production. More info at: austinshakespeare
The set is simple but effective--a graceful arch, a peacock motif mosaic wall, and a large mandala on the floor. Duke Orsino's home is stage right; Countess Olivia's home is stage left; center stage houses all other action.
The play features Shakespeare's original dialog, except for some Sanskrit words added to flavor the musical numbers, plus a closing "Namaste." The songs, composed by Austin songwriter Naga Valli, were an intriguing hybrid of Olde English madrigal and Eastern music. Valli stayed after the show to answer questions from the audience.
The show opens with an energetic dance number set to Indian-style music, before Duke Orsino starts the traditional dialog with "If music be the food of love, play on."
I had less trouble keeping up with the plot in this version than I had in previous readings or productions. It could be that I've finally learned Shakespearean English. Perhaps I paid closer attention because of my own two weeks in Bangalore, India, as a Western techie training my Indian peers. I know the variety of costuming choices available from that culture helped me keep the characters separate and the plot lines untangled.
Orsino wears a stiff, princely Nehru jacket and turban. The object of his affections, Countess Olivia, wears a sari; her lady in waiting Maria wears a shalwar kameez. Olivia starts the play in sad, dull colors but blossoms at the end as befits her status as a newly married woman, in a rose-pink sari with jewels on her forehead.
I've never seen Indian attire quite as rumpled as that worn by Olivia's drunken uncle Toby Belch, and its color was subdued yet distinctly un-Western. Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a lanky, simple-minded suitor for Olivia, is resplendent in scarlet hose, high-water faded pink pajama pants, and an outrageously yellow kurta. Their turbans are badly wrapped and slightly askew.
The audience got a few cheap laughs from the excellent prolonged burps produced by the uncle throughout the production. Kudos to the sound folks who spliced that in.
Olivia's fool wears a colorful loincloth, a style more farm hand than fashion sense. Olivia's steward Malvolio tries to capture his mistress's fancy by swapping his normally drab and concealing kurta and turban for an Elizabethan-style tunic with yellow hose and those famously crossed garters (it's no wonder they thought him mad!)
Viola and Sebastian wash ashore with their respective saviors, the Captain and Antonio, all wearing preppy Western attire. The twins' identical blue vests, oxford cloth shirts, and khaki pants spotlight them throughout the play's comedy of mistaken identity.
It all turns out well at the end. The twins are reunited; two sets of lovers find each other; the bad will be punished, but not too harshly.