12th Night of the Living Dead reviewed at Stray Cat Theatre

Sunday, April 18, 2010
Gilbert Examiner

The mission of Stray Cat Theatre's is to provoke, challenge and jolt its audience out of conventional response. This past Friday, April 16, Stray Cat Theatre opened 12th Night of the Living Dead, William Shakespeare as re-imagined by Brian MacInnis Smallwood. Mission accomplished!

MacInnis Smallwood's adaptation is a travesty on the Bard's Twelfth Night. It is a grotesque, ludicrous distorted version of one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies. Is is good? Possibly! Is it bizarre? Oh yes! Is it for everyone? Maybe yes, maybe no! It all depends how strong a stomach you have for zombies feasting on the flesh of some of the master's most flavorsome characters.

Cale Epps directs the play as if possessed by the spirit of horror maestro George Romero. He marshals his cast of mean spirited zombies to culinary perfection. While the author is having wicked fun with Shakespeare, the director is having wild fun, teasing and testing the audience's imagination.

The play begins with a libidinous dream sequence, Duke Orsino's funny psychosexual wet-dream if you will. Ryan Nelson proves to be great fun as a wacky, eccentric, clueless Orsino. Next, the audience is at sea when a diseased meteor crashes into a boat en route to Illyria. BAM! Shipwrecked, Shakespeare's Viola has become the first infected zombie. Alone on the beach with the Sea Captain, she moans and growls for his heart. Well, actually she is hungry for his heart but not in the traditional sense as she rips it from his chest thus beginning MacInnis Smallwood's merry, maiming pandemonium. Valerie Vasilas is delightful, spending the entire evening wandering about voicing a guttural growl, searching for her next meal. Her confusion and frustration when in contact with her daffy unsuspecting victims is quite enjoyable.

Louis Farber as the boisterous pranking Sir Toby Belch, Nathaniel Dobson as a goofy, smitten soon to be bitten, Sir Anthony Aguecheek and Benjamin Burt as poor, straitlaced Malvolio are all marvelously in tune with both Shakespeare and the disorder and destruction of MacInnis Smallwood's adaptation. I was hoping that Malvolio would have the opportunity to finally have his revenge on prankster Belch, a revenge denied him in the original. Belch, sadly, falls victim to Viola who proceeds to disembowel him ravenously before our eyes. The play now rushes to an end that is a messy masterwork of mayhem.

David J. Catellano has designed a lovely set for the manic proceedings. It seems a pity that his good work is continuously splattered with the gushing blood, gore and the innards of the play's unsuspecting victims.

12th Night of the Living Dead may not be to everyone's taste but director Cale Epps has served up a tasty treat that is good enough to eat (zombie or not). Don't forget to bring Tums! You have been warned.