Pig Iron & Swim Pony Remix Shakespeare Standards at the Live Arts Festival

Pig Iron Theater's "Twelfth Night" at the 2011 Philly Live Arts Fest. Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg.

“Words are very rascals,” the phrase famously uttered by the Twelfth Night’s Fool achieves renewed potency in Pig Iron Theatre’s contribution to the 2011 Live Arts Festival. The company’s rendition of the Shakespeare classic abounds with linguistic ne’er-do-wells eluding fixed meaning and timeworn phrases assuming new personae with the same ease as the characters who utter them.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a Festival world premiere and represents Pig Iron’s first large-scale encounter with a script from the classic theatrical canon. Sensationally acted and staged, their rendering is both textually faithful and radically defamiliarized.  With the aid of live musical accompaniment by a mesmeric Balkan ensemble, the Bard’s tale of intrigue and identity-swapping becomes the vehicle for a carnivalesque frenzy of Bakhtinian role reversal and gender play.

A violinist is wheeled onstage on the back of a tricycle by a gentleman in bowtie, short pants, and mismatched argyle socks. Each opened door surreally reveals a band of gypsies awaiting opportunity to burst into song. Erotic appetites are alternately disguised and exposed through spoken and sartorial masquerade.  Carousing performers get three, then four sheets to the wind. Their pleasure is infectious, drawing us so irresistibly into the Bacchanalian revelry that as the performance comes to a close, there is a pang of regret over the conclusion of the fete. Twelfth Night, or What You Will plays at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre until September 17th and is not to be missed.

Afterward, we made our way two blocks down Broad Street to the Arts Bank for a reimagining of a Shakespeare standard very different in tone and content. Lady M, a Swim Pony Performing Arts production, offers an investigation into the psyche of Lady Macbeth. The stunning set design depicts her bedchamber as a series of shock-white diaphanous fabric strips occupying the entire stage in a vulvar configuration. Its all-female cast collectively probes the mind of Lady M, with the coven of witches recast as a ten-woman chorus articulating the white noise of her interior monologues. The vocal score they provide makes use of “screams, yowls, trills, and squeaks,” generating an aural maelstrom to lend voice to the previously stifled anti-heroine.

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  1. Pingback: Raves for Pig Iron’s Twelfth Night « Blake DeLong
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