Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Twilight’s Merry Maltese Bodkin

Stan Yeend, Paul Roder, Samuel Alexander Hawkins, and Chris Murphy.
Photo by Alicia Turvin.

By Tina Arth

Only the most vile-spirited could possibly fail to find a LOT to love in Twilight’s latest, The Maltese Bodkin. Playwright David Belke has created a lighthearted, smart, wittily ridiculous casserole, combining film noir’s The Maltese Falcon and a stage full of iconic Shakespearean characters, inexplicably linked in a 1605 London murder mystery. Director Sarah Fuller has gathered a group of actors willing to let it all hang out in service of their (art?) and the result is so funny that my seatmate thought she might have broken a rib laughing – and this from someone worried that her comparatively slim knowledge of Elizabethan era English Lit might leave her lost amid the high-toned hijinks.  To (mis)quote the Bard, “If comedy be the food of love, play on.”

The story (which happily make no pretense at making sense) is, in a nutshell: American private eye Birnam Wood returns to his 17th century London office and finds that in his absence someone has slain his partner, Archie. The distraught Wood wants only to find out who killed Archie, and he has no interest in taking on any paying clients (much to the dismay of his faithful secretary, Charlotte, who worries about mundane details like the rent). Enter the mysteriously seductive Viola de Messaline, shipwrecked far from her native land and searching for her lost brother. In return for Wood’s promise to help her, she produces the Maltese Bodkin, the weapon used to murder Archie. Without getting much closer to identifying Archie’s killer, Wood encounters a platoon of Shakespearean refugees, among them Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet), Viola and Sebastian (The Twelfth Night), Antonio (The Merchant of Venice), Iago (Othello), Donalbain (Macbeth), Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern (Hamlet), Sergeant Fang (Henry IV), and most memorably, Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). As these and other characters scheme to get their hands on the Maltese Bodkin, the serpentine plot acts as a vehicle for the actors to hide and spy and drink and die with remarkable comedic flair. In the end, the mystery is resolved and the audience members leave the theater much happier, if no wiser, than when they entered.

Rather than comment in depth on the individual actors (with 9 people playing 18 characters, it might get tedious), I’ll point to several particularly unforgettable moments that you’ll want to watch for when you go (you WILL go, right?). Chris Murphy (Antonio, Donalbain, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester) does one of the most inspired death scenes in theatrical history, complete with missing churros. Chelsea Read (Charlotte) and Lura Longmire (Viola) are the yin and yang of flirtation as each tries to dent Birnam Wood’s obliviously stoic exterior. Skye McLaren Walton, while fine as Prospero and Sebastian, is on fire as the tutu-wearing Puck, and his leap into the face of an audience member (mine, as it happens) left me hanging between glee and shock. Do not miss Blaine Vincent III (Mercutio, Guildenstern) and Samuel Alexander Hawkins (Iago, Ratcliffe, Rosenkrantz) in a key scene change or the subsequent thumb wrestling. Stan Yeend (Falstaff, Catesby, Fang) takes both inebriation and cheerful self-mockery to previously unexplored heights.  Christina Taft (Nell Quickly) memorably mixes equal parts scorn and loyalty as Falstaff’s codependent barmaid.  Finally, there’s the relatively thankless role of straight man (Birnam Wood), which Paul Roder bears with the grace of a truly archetypal film noir detective. Watch for his entrances – he gives “foreshadowing” a whole new meaning…

The entire production team has worked overtime to bring this rollicking and quirky show to the stage – lighting, sound, costumes in particular. In addition to shaping her cast (and giving them the space they need to craft their almost-but-not-quite over the top performances, Director Fuller also did a lovely (if somewhat scary) job of fight choreography. The result of all this teamwork? For me, a side-splitting evening. For you, a trip to North Portland before this little gem closes.

Twilight Theater Company’s The Maltese Bodkin is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through June 24th with performances at 8 P.M. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday.


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