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Twelfth Night: Frog and Peach


Jamal Brathwaite (left), Amy Frances Quint (center) and Kevin Haver (right)

     photos by Maria Baranova),


Twelfth Night: Frog and Peach


                    R. Pikser


The intimacy of a black box theater brings audiences close to the performers; the spare space requires use of the imagination by directors, performers, and audience.   One can imagine that the bare stages of Shakespeare’s day are paralleled in black box stages, though the latter are even more basic.  Frog and Peach’s production of Twelfth Night makes excellent and spirited use of the downstairs space at the Sheen Center.  As the audience enters, the exposed playing area is washed by blue patterned light projections, reminding us that a shipwreck forms one of Twelfth Night’s plot threads.  Objects strewn about on two chairs further this feeling: picture frames, clock faces, a boot or two, and assorted plants.  Unfortunately, these suggestive items are barely used, but the short scenes move quickly and the energetic actors enter and exit with verve.


Jamal Brathwaite (left) and Amy Frances Quint (right)


Standouts of the cast are Jamar Brathwaite, Steven Ungar and Alyssa Diamond.  Sir Andrew Aguecheek, would-be suitor to the romantic lead Olivia, is one of the several clownlike characters of this play and is not usually considered a focal point. However, Mr. Brathwaite’s clear enunciation and projection, as well as his expressive use of his body draw our attention. 


Alyssa Diamond (left) and Jonathan Reed Wexler 


In the minor part of Fabian, another one of the comedic figures, Mr. Ungar also stands out by maintaining his character and his involvement in what is going on for the entire time he is on stage, not only when he is speaking.  Ms. Diamond, in the pants role of Viola, disguised as the boy, Cesario, has moments when we can see not only how she feels but what she wants.  She is clear in her understanding of what she is saying, so that we are, too.  


Shakespeare’s comedies, as well as being about language brilliance and play, are about sex and the pants roles add spice to the set-up of the jokes.  In Elizabethan times, homosexuality was forbidden and yet part of life, as in our own society not so very long ago.  In Elizabethan theatre, females were played by boys.  In the comedies it is often the case that girls (played by boys) disguise themselves as boys (for safety), and are courted by women (also played by boys).  The girl characters are, of course, horrified at the possibility of the homosexuality hinted at by the love of the women characters.  And they are usually in love with one of the male characters (this, too, adding another homosexual suggestion, though ignored).  The intricacies of the layers of sexuality are a joke all by themselves.  This same sort of double and triple entendre is also to be found in the language.


Twelfth Night is not about much besides the sexuality, the silly twists of the plot as the various characters pursue each other onto and off the stage, and the language, beautiful and intricate in its punning playfulness.  If we, the audience, are to understand this last element the actors must be aware of what they are saying and must give us a chance to appreciate not only the jokes, but the beauty of the sounds and the poetic images.  We no longer speak the way they spoke in the 1500’s, and we do not speak in poetry.  We need a moment to absorb the language.


That said, Frog and Peach fulfill their stated intention to bring Shakespeare to a wide public.  The modest price of their tickets and their high, good humored energy make this goal possible.  Wisely, they want to keep things moving, not lugubrious, but speed is not the same thing as pacing.  Sometimes one needs to take time to smell the flowers and to allow them to spread their perfume through the hall.  In any event, Shakespeare is always worth seeing and listening to and Frog and Peach remind us, again, of how glorious he is.



Frog and Peach

February 22nd–March 17th 2019

Black Box Theater of the Sheen Center

18 Bleecker Street

New York, NY

Tickets:  $26.95