Little West 12th Night
nytheatre.com review by Bess Rowen
July 9, 2012
Have you ever wandered through the streets of the Meatpacking District and wondered what it used to be like? Well now there is a show that provides even a cynical New Yorker a walking (and rolling) tour that is both informative and entertaining. In Peter Lettre's play Little West 12th Night, an undergroundzero and Conni's Restaurant collaboration, Frankie's Walk and Roll tours takes you on an avant-garde tour through "meatpa" where the city's history mingles with the plot of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
As someone who walks around this city a great deal, but is hesitant to do "touristy" things without a good reason, I immediately appreciated the tone of the walking tour. My guide was Frankie, a no-nonsense, "differently abled" gentleman charmingly played by Rachel Benbow Murdy. As the walking and rolling went on, we soon encountered other groups led by different guides, some of whom bore names familiar to any Twelfth Night fan, such as Toby. Murdy led us along with the help of Fabian, a rabbit-hatted poet and former meatpacking employee played by Kevin Bunge.
Murdy and Bunge led the small band of us through the neighborhood around Little West 12th Street. Starting with an assumed walking familiarity with the area, Murdy's easy storytelling takes us back to a time when the entire Meatpacking District was submerged under the Hudson River. It is here that we began to find characters from Twelfth Night strewn about the cityscape. The well-orchestrated nature of this site-specific piece was particularly interesting as the actors mingled with the naturally occurring characters that populate this city of ours.
The story of Twelfth Night is both modernized and streamlined. Olivia, played by Siouxsie Suarez, is now a kind of capitalist royalty, and she resides in The Standard Hotel in veiled solitude after losing her father and brother in a plane crash. Malvolio, well-played by Taylor Valentine, is a snotty assistant to Olivia, complete with Bluetooth and high-priced coffee.
The combination of these disparate worlds is strangely satisfying. Just like Frankie said on my tour, the Meatpacking District can alternately be seen as progress or its opposite. The characters from the shipwrecked, love-crossed, cross-gartered comedy have also undergone progress in their update, yet the problems they experience are still relatable. If this is the case, how much progress have we really made? This could be a depressing sentiment, but it is lighthearted coming from this company.
Of course, the progress is obvious on a very basic level, as the tour takes you through beautiful parts of the city. Whether you are standing next to a meatpacking factory or on top of the High Line, the found space is certainly its own actor in this piece of theatre. Design consultants David Barber and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew and director Cynthia Croot all collaborated to use the space in a creative and exciting way. The end result was a piece that not only made me think about the history of some of the locations in that area, but also rendered them new and exciting through the performances happening there in the present.
I should also point out that there is a great deal of walking around and no seating opportunities during this piece. And the show also goes on rain or shine. So if you cannot or do not want to walk around New York for about an hour and half, you should look elsewhere for entertainment. But if you can walk, it is certainly worth your while.
Whenever I walk by the High Line, or see The Standard Hotel in the distance, I will think of the facts I learned from this unique tour. But I will also think of the interactive performance and the characters that undergroundzero and Conni's Restaurant put out into this space to make me think differently about both Twelfth Night and New York City itself.