Shakespeare Gets "Zombie-fied" by Loud Fridge Theatre Group with Their Production:

Twelfth Night of the Living Dead, or, What You Kill

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Kaylin Saur and Nick Kennedy. Photo by Daren Scott

Just from the title alone, you can grasp the creative wit this company put -to the stage- for their season opener, adapting Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, an endeavor by local playwright A.J. Schaar, directed by Kate Rose Reynolds, Director of Operations for Loud Fridge.

Yes, the title alludes to the sixties horror film Night of the Living Dead yet truly, the piece is -practically- all Shakespeare with some zombies here and there...with more to come in a pop makeover that was original, and very creative as well as entertaining. Without spoilers, there is a music video-like introduction to the characters that combined Taylor Jo Oxley's choreo moves contoured by Emily Johansson's lighting design which for that first moment, took advantage of the natural sunlight to mesh with the stage light in the venue, resulting in an extra cool effect that worked out and began strong. 

Robert Del Pino, Ruth Russell, William BJ Robinson. Photo by Daren Scott
The Twelfth Night plot starts with a shipwreck where twins Viola (Kaylin Saur), and Sebastian (Hayden St Clair), are separated. Orsino (Nick Kennedy), is in love with the Countess Olivia (Robert Del Pino), who is not interested and is in mourning due to her brother's passing. There is a mini stage to the house right where shadows and shadow-like puppetry take place, framing some scenes like the shipwreck. Props to Michael Amira Temple for the design, as I thought using these tools was very creative as it offered visual options to the audience. 
Malvolio (Ashley "Lee" Engelman), Olivia's house manager is also in love with the countess but, no one likes him so Maria (Donae Swanson), another house employee, decides to play a little joke on Malvolio along with Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Danny Campbell). Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Julia Giolzetti) is Olivia's guest and another suitor, Feste (William BJ Robinson) is the house clown, and, Fabian (Liliana Talwatte) another house employee, along with a Lady-in-Waiting/Police Officer played by Ruth Russell. Antonio (Fredy Gomez Cruz) is friends with Sebastian who comes back from the wreck and makes things even messier as there are love triangles, people falling for who they supposedly should not fall in love with while being bitten and turning into zombies, escorted by a combative ending that takes arms and legs (literally).

OK! now that I've gotten that roster down, continuing with the performance, the physicality of the twins, especially Kaylin Saur's whose body movement steers from the unique lines of Viola's character as she is a zombie from the very beginning, is mastered, and flows through the stage in a butter like manner that echoes her circus artistry training. The siblings do twin as there were scenes where I could hardly tell them apart! it came to a point where I thought it was Kaylin, but it was Hayden. There is gender-bending, and things are happening at a twisted pace which sometimes, -common with Shakespeare-, there has to be a catch-up. Kate Rose Reynolds's direction reflects fun and freedom as the actors are playful with their stage personas but truly imprint the intention. Olivia, the popular lady in the story played by Robert Del Pino, is royal. From the attitude to the looks, to the lewk! Way to work that wardrobe by Heather K. Nunn and Kendall Stallworth that thoughtfully layered shorts with skirts, and pants with skirts, combining materials like lace, velvet, and pleather amongst others while capturing the feel of the time. Ashley "Lee" Engelman as the ego-charged yet tricked Malvolio, won over the audience by rocking that iambic pentameter with comedic flare and performing strong fight choreographies, courtesy of Nicolas A. Castillo and Kaivan Mohsenzadeh. 

Lee Engelman. Photo by Daren Scott
Donae Swanson's makeup was flawless while portraying the knotty Maria. Danny Campbell and Julia Giolzetti pair up nicely and gift some laughs, dad jokes included. I had yet to see William BJ Robinson on stage and I liked their smooth histrionic style of work as Feste, playing instruments and dodging zombies. Nick Kennedy's Orsino is a joy as the strong intonation is there, though modulated with mischief, having a combination that makes it engaging. There was a particular scene that made Estefania Ricalde's sound design shine, or should I say blast? with a playful songlist that was also signaled well. Fredy Gomez Cruz's interventions are short and sweet making it almost to all 90-ish minutes in one piece, unlike the characters of Ruth Rusell and Liliana Talwatte who were bitten into zombies having some frolicsome stage fun with their cast mates and the audience. 

There have been many experiments and creative takes while staging a Shakespeare piece. This is one of the most creative. And the reaction of an audience member after the performance that I saw, assuring "No more Old Globe for me!" I consider to be one of the best reviews you can get.
Good for Loud Fridge as they continue to take risks that fulfill their creative mission. The Bard can be intimidating and, with this production, the company offered an alternative to and for seeing Shakespeare.

There are three performances left free of charge, playing this weekend at the City Heights Performance Annex. For reservations and times please click here

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