El Público's homoerotic Twelfth Night reaches 100 
 by Victoria Alcalá
May 6, 2012 marked the 100th performance of El Público’s homoerotic Twelfth Night. This is one of the longest running Cuban theatre productions and for most of these nights it has played to packed houses. Director Carlos Díaz’s version of the Shakespeare play is not for traditionalists with irreverent provocation dominating the Trianón Theater on Línea Street: cross-dressing, masquerade, farce and outspoken sarcasm; a deliberate mix of “high” and popular culture. Personally I think it was brilliant although don’t take grandma!

Victoria Alcalá writes about Cuban culture. She has won several prestigious writing awards.

Going to the theater—at least in Cuba—to see a play by William Shakespeare as it was staged at The Globe in 17th-18th century England is quite impossible, yet dramatic art lovers continue to attend theater houses to see his works in this digital age when man is able to enjoy theater or film productions from the comfort of their homes.

Shakespeare dealt with pressing issues of the European reality of the time such as civil strife, the selfishness of politicians and familial discord within royalty. His great tragedies contain a broad range of emotions, including love, jealousy, doubt, ambition, greed or power. But he also applied his prodigious talents to comedies—for some reason they are not staged as much as his tragedies—of which Twelfth Night and As You Like It may be, perhaps, his best.

Precisely one of these two, Twelfth Night, was chosen by El Público Theater in 2011 in a daring version of the play. May 6, 2012 marked its 100th performance playing always to packed houses, despite the many offers from Cuban and Latin American companies that were invited for the Mayo Teatral festival that is held every two years.

First performed by Shakespeare’s company in 1601, Twelfth Night is reputed to have been especially commissioned to the Bard. It became the ideal vehicle for culminating the great merrymaking that went on before the Epiphany, which marked the end of the Christmas festivities. The play is characterized by lyricism and ambiguity in a story of intrigue and crossed identities.

Those who choose to go to the theater to see this version of Twelfth Night should be prepared to face a different production with a clear intention of the spectacular, a highly charged homoerotic atmosphere and daring spatial arrangement and set, enhanced by a catwalk that allows the actors to interact directly with the audience. If you prefer classical Shakespeare, director Carlos Díaz’s El Público Theater is certainly not for you.

Irreverent provocation dominates the Trianón Theater on Línea Street: cross-dressing, masquerade, farce and outspoken sarcasm; spicy double meaning along with parody and even circus acts; recurrent textual and musical anachronism, with pastiches that make references to the present day or demystify symbols that are devalued due to their endless repetition; lewd scandal and satirical ambiguity; a deliberate mix of “high” and popular culture and even vulgarity; jokes heard on the street, and certain codes that can only be deciphered by someone who has lived in the island for some time, but which does not invalidate the overall enjoyment and understanding of the play.

Two constant features are visible in this production by El Público. One is the repeated exposure of the male body under the view expressed by director Carlos Díaz that “nudity is another way of dressing the body;” a nakedness of such intensity that it sweeps away taboos and stereotypes as the body is cross-dressed, masked, transformed, redeemed, desired, intervened, possessed to its greatest heights, while its androgynous and ambiguous character relativizes all notions. The other constant is the jubilant eroticism, inflamed by creative fantasy.

The furiously-paced carnival-like extravaganza and the great concentration of language is one of the main virtues of this production. The visual exuberance and the textual and musical symbolic charge of a representation in which the actors act, sing and dance with a strong gestural approach put 17 excellent actors and actresses to the test in a play that invites fun and joy.

Postmodern, neo-baroque or whichever way you may wish to classify it, this version of Twelfth Night is undoubtedly among the best productions of Mayo Teatral.
An unconventional Shakespeare
May 2012
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