Most directors who set themselves the task of boiling down William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" to a mere hour of theatrical traffic would find themselves writhing in agony at what to leave out. Not Sean Graney, who must always sleep well at night.
For his "12 Nights," Graney not only slices and dices Shakespeare's text, but he adds in bits from Barnabe Riche's "Apolonius and Silla" (one of the Bard's sources) and the anonymous Italian play "Gi'Ingannati" (likely one of the sources of that source). And yet he still finds time for a rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
Graney is the real deal and, in general, I am a fan of his mashups. This four-actor "12 Nights" is very much in the same style as Graney's previous, hourlong take on "Romeo and Juliet," with both pieces set in a neutral hangout space — a kind of rec room, with the audience seated on lawn chairs — and both all about catching the recycled essence of love rather than its historical context. This "12 Nights" (which is designed by the cast of Tien Doman, Zeke Sulkes, Christine Stulik and Jeff Trainor) comes with any number of witticisms, including a little collage of those pine-scented auto air fresheners doubling as the landscape of Illyria and a dominant role for the mix tapes made by lovers.
And despite the ancient sources, Graney also adds a few lines on the order of "My lord, you sound awesome." Or, in one particular amusing moment, "Thou hast been punked."
Given all the pretentious conceptualists out there, the warmth and openness of Graney's basement notions are major assets. Indeed, "12 Nights," with its ample amounts of audience singalongs, is a very genial hour that would make a pleasing appetizer for a late-summer date or a post-show nosh. It is an exceptionally welcoming atmosphere, thanks to a cast that makes such inclusiveness a priority. And this is, for sure, a goofy show. In August, a little goofiness fits the bill. Those long nights of textual angst can wait until after Labor Day.
That said, "12 Nights" does not work as well as Graney's "Romeo Juliet," partly because the energy is more diffuse and does not drive toward a climax with the same force. The show feels a tad slight. Maintaining this style of chilled-out amusement and at the same time ensuring sufficient high stakes for the drama to have import is a tricky combo — Graney is more successful in the former than the latter.
Doman is a very funny Malvolio, Stulik a sweet wooer, Trainor an earnest suitor and Sulkes an especially genial host. But love unrequited ain't no fun at all and we could use more of a look at that dread behind the craving lovers' eyes.
When: Through Oct. 6
Where: Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St.
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Tickets: $28 at 773-525-5991 or the-hypocrites.com