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‘12 Nights’ loses sight of the Bard

Christine Stulik (from left) Zeke Sulkes Jeff Trainor star Hypocrites Theater producti'12 Nights.'

Christine Stulik (from left), Zeke Sulkes and Jeff Trainor star in the Hypocrites Theater production of "12 Nights."

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‘12 Nights’

Somewhat recommended

When: Through Oct. 6

Where: The Hypocrites at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division

Tickets: $28

Info: (773) 525-5991;

Run time: 60 minutes, with no intermission

Updated: August 20, 2013 3:18PM

The first lines of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” a comedy of love, pride, melancholy, gender confusion and class, are quoted often: “If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”

But who would have guessed that the lovesick, thwarted Duke Orsino would ever think of wooing his beloved and elusive Countess Olivia by putting together a mixtape of pop songs?

Well, if you know the work of The Hypocrites, and adapter-director Sean Graney — the company’s dizzying deconstructivist — this should come as no surprise. Nor should his hourlong condensation of the play full of broadly morphing characterizations by his ready-for-anything cast of four (Tien Doman, Christine Stulik, Zeke Sulkes and Jeff Trainor). Nor should the astroturf and plastic beach chair environment, the party vibe fueled by Oreos and bubble gum, and the yellow leg warmers used as a clever equivalent for cross-garters of a century long gone.

Unfortunately, Graney’s “12 Nights” feels more like a drunken frat party than anything else. And while I am far from a Shakespeare purist (I was a huge fan of the Q Brothers’ beat-for-beat hip-hop production, “Othello: The Remix” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater), any “translation” should remain true to the spirit of the language and story in some real way.

Far too often, “12 Nights” (which I saw at its final preview) not only devolves into a brash screaming match, but it renders the tale (drawn from Shakespeare and a couple of lesser known sources) all but unintelligible to those unfamiliar with the original. In fact, rather than being “pop accessible,’ this production is something of an inside joke. And much of the play’s humor (and pain), gets lost or bludgeoned.

The mismatched pairs here include Duke Orsino (Trainor), who is in pursuit of the standoffish Countess Olivia (Stulik), who claims she is still in mourning for her brother. Yet when the Duke recruits Cesario (Sulkes) — a girl, Viola, in disguise as a boy — to woo the Countess for him, she falls in love with “him.” And Viola falls for the Duke. In the interim there is much ado at the houses of both Orsino and Olivia as their servants, including Olivia’s steward, Malvolio (Doman), act up or are acted upon.

Graney’s version savages much of the original language, without replacing it with anything of equal value. And as whimsical an idea as it might be for a play about music and off-kilter love to spin out in a mixtape score (with snatches of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Foreigner’s “I’ve Been Waiting for a Girl Like You,” The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” and more), none of this substitutes for the lack of clarity, subtlety or emotional connection.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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