Three Fringe Festivals back, Pig Iron Theatre Company -- among the nation's most cutting-edge -- dipped into the classics. The troupe gave us William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," but with a particularly Pig-Iron sensibility. Actors slid onto stage or ran from it on a sizable skateboard ramp, a Klezmer-like troupe of musicians were a sort of orchestrated Greek chorus, and the production focused on the play's drunks and hangers-on as much as its plot about gender-confused love.
Sometimes, things mellow with age but a little too much. The "Twelfth Night" that Pig Iron is remounting in the new FringeArts theater by the Delaware River has all the elements of the unruly, strange and very funny original production. And less.
It's still a romp and a real "twelfth Night" -- a smart mix of one of Shakepeare's richest works interpreted through Pig Iron's outre lens. The shtik is all there but somehow, the organic quality of the show suffers in the current presentation. It's great fun, but not as great. It still has its impressive physicality under Pig Iron co-founder Dan Rottenberg's direction, but comes off with less oomph than he gave the previous staging. Much of this have to do, I think, to timing; despite its full plate of impressive ideas, at its opening on Friday night "The Twelfth Night" seemed slower than it was meant to be. Even when the show was pumping along, it had a hesitant feel.
It also had too much of a good extreme: too much of Rosie Langabeer's swooning music, even though its five on-stage musicians, including Langabeer, give the show a solid Pig-Iron trademark; too much drinking among too many characters, although James Sugg has all the necessary moves and more to bring off his always-soused Sir Toby; too much stuff for too little effect, such as four main characters pouring the wine from their goblets onto the stage floor for no apparent reason. A wedding celebration, which I remember to be a riot in the original production, seemed forced this second time around.
It's a bit of a mystery, because all the pieces are there – they just didn't fit together neatly when I saw "Twelfth Night"; perhaps the show was under-rehearsed and as a result, has not yet jelled. Whatever the case, Kristen Sieh makes a splendid Viola, the young woman who is shipwrecked and ends up on an island. She disguises herself as a man so she can work for the island's duke (Pig Iron co-founder Dito van Reigersberg).
Viola thinks her twin brother (Charles Socarides) vanished at sea, but he's alive and eventually comes to the island, allowing Shakespeare to create delightful confusion. This will affect the mourning countess Olivia (Birgit Huppuch) and her retinue, including a fool (a nice turn by Richard Ruiz), a scheming maid (Charleigh E. Parker) and a stuffy steward (Chris Thorn).
I admit to possibly being swayed in my reaction to this remount by two factors – the first go-round two years ago, which may be enlarged in my memory because I was so taken with it, and Broadway's current "Twelfth Night" by Shakespeare's Globe, among the finest Shakespeare productions you'll see. If you've not seen the Pig Iron "Twelfth Night" before, you'll be charmed by this one and if you have, well, there's still much to satisfy your desire for a second round.
"Twelfth Night," produced by Pig Iron Theatre Company, runs through Dec. 22 at FringeArts, Race Street and Columbus Boulevard. 215-413-1318 or www.fringearts.com.