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Pig Iron has its way with 'Twelfth Night'

Pig Iron Theatre is never going to be Shakespeare Central and would be turning its back on itself if it tried.

Pig Iron Theatre is never going to be Shakespeare Central and would be turning its back on itself if it tried.

This company is the gleeful interloper, the holy fool who zooms in from the side door to tell us what we might not have noticed about the classics. So its current production of Twelfth Night, a revival of a 2011 Fringe Festival hit, is meant to be not a complete look at the piece, but one through their lens. It's not always going to work, and the play is sometimes bent to the qualities the company has to offer, but the experience will be unlike any other. Still, is it too much to hope that the piece would be better paced?

This is what the playing field at FringeArts looks like in this Dan Rothenberg-directed production: The set by Maiko Matsushima has two physical levels, functioning not always atmospherically but for expedient comings and goings in this busy plot about identical but mixed-gender twins, drunken onlookers, and mismatched love interest. Most prominent (and incongruous) stands a chute resembling the inside of a seashell (a shipwreck triggers the plot) that is a bellwether for how the 2011 production has evolved.

Then, interaction with the chute was at times symbolic (with actors trying to climb up the slippery slope) in ways that underscored the obvious. Now, the chute aids only in dramatization, used when characters need to gain physical stature over others, and as a means of getting actors to and from scenes with cinematic speed - since the set's second level has a trap door allowing actors to slide down the slope.

More generally, the production seems less enthralled with its own concept - Rosie Langabeer's Balkan score with gypsy-flavored accordion seems more dramatically purposeful than before - leaving the door open for the actors to get down to more serious business. But it's there that some of them bump up against their own limitations.

The actors certainly reserve the right to fracture verse rhythm to find their own theatrical veracity, and to take characters to temperamental extremes that wouldn't happen in more traditional classical theater. The Pig Iron women know something the men seem not to: Charm is just fine in experimental theater and goes far to selling an unorthodox concept. Were Birgit Huppuch (Olivia) and Charleigh E. Parker (Maria) adept Shakespeareans, or were they that much easier to watch? Perhaps both.

If anybody can play the drunken aristocrat Sir Toby Belch, it's James Sugg, though his line reading were so similar that he became tedious. Temperamental extremes weren't always at the high end. As much as I loved hearing Richard Ruiz sing in musical interludes, he was the most depressive Feste ever I've seen.

The twins were excellent: As the cross-dressing Viola, Kristen Sieh always conveyed the vulnerability of her disguise. As her twin Sebastian, Charles Socarides was a bright spot because he inhabited his role more than others and delivered exuberance when the show needed it most. So much time was given over to the actors reacting to what was around them that the pace grew leisurely at points in Act II when it should have been speeding up. Granted, the play's subtitle is What You Will, but there are limits to the implied leeway.