by Ellen Wilson Dilks

“The grounde worke of Commedies, is love, cosenedge, flatterie, bawderie, [and] slye conveighance of whordome.” ~ Stephen Gosson, 16th Century English satirist.

West Philly’s Curio Theatre Company continues their season-long examination of gender roles with the World Premiere of GENDER COMEDY: A LESS STUPID TWELFTH NIGHT GAY FANTASIA, by company Member Harry Slack. This clever re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night plays in the group’s Corner Stage from December 5th, 2013 thru January 4th, 2014.

“Twelfth Night” is a festival in some Christian cultures that marks the end of the holiday season; it falls on January 5th, twelve days after Christmas. The common theme of this tradition is that the normal order of things was reversed, and someone was named the Lord of Misrule to preside over the merriment and pranks. Our Lord of Misrule here is definitely Harry Slack, who has taken the bard’s play and turned it on its ear to give us 90 minutes of utter lunacy. (Actually, if this is an insight into Slack’s mind, I’m a little scared…) Gently poking fun at the Bard’s oft used devices of separated twins and mistaken identity, Slack also uses GENDER COMEDY to make a commentary on Marriage Equality (still not passed in Pennsylvania) and the value of theatre itself. And, for good measure, he throws in robots.

The bulk of the ensemble of six—mostly new faces to the Curio stage—does double duty, switching costumes and personas in rapid succession. The exception to this is Lavinia Loveless (Josh Hitchens’ lovely drag alter-ego). Ms. Loveless is delightful as the very gender confused Viola—or is she/he Oliver? Who cares, just enjoy the fun as Loveless/Hitchens flits about the stage with great flair. An equally strong performance is turned in by Patrick Lamborn as the sexually ambivalent Orson (Slack’s version of Duke Orsino) and Olivia’s put-upon servant Melvin (Malvolio). Matching these two is Dana Krietz as the overly-hyper Olivia and the mousey Antonia who rescued (and pines for) Oliver.  Krietz is new to the Philly scene, but I think we’ll be seeing a lot of her. Mercedes Lyons-Cox is adorable as Oliver and Lesley Berkowitz shines as Andy/Police Officer/Drunk and Jaques Beret. Playwright Slack rounds out this solid cast as Sir Toby Fart and Clown (the Feste substitute); he is terrifically droll in both roles.

Director Paul Kuhn keeps the action flowing on his simple, yet colorful set (it looks like confetti has exploded in the space); with six low slatted benches serving as furniture and jail bars. Actors appear and disappear from all around the intimate theatre. Supporting the piece perfectly are Steve Carpenter’s lighting design and Drew Peterson’s soundscape. As usual, Aetna Gallagher has costumed the cast wonderfully, and in some instances, to hilarious effect.

GENDER COMEDY is definitely not a typical—or safe—choice for the holiday season, but it’s great fun. Some might not get it, but I found it quite entertaining. So take an hour and a half out of your busy schedule of shopping and decking the halls to just relax and have a good laugh.

by Harry Slack
Directed by Paul Kuhn
December 5, 2013—January 4, 2014
Curio Theatre Company
4740 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, Pa 19143
For tickets call 215-525-1350

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