In collaboration with the Eye on India Festival, Chicago Shakespeare Theater brought India’s Company Mumbai Theatre to their main stage for a short, two-night-only stand with a rollicking adaptation of Twelfth Night, which premiered at the Globe in London in 2012. In Hindi, with projected supertitles in English, Piya Behrupiya put the music with which Twelfth Night so famously begins front and center, along with spirited dancing, raucous audience interactions, and a script in rhyming couplets that killed any and all suspense with its blithe disregard for the original plot’s chronology. For example, Puranjeet Dasgupta, who portrayed Sebastian, began his stint on stage by running out to assess Olivia’s physical appearance during Viola/Cesario’s first encounter with her (unseen by either), and then escalated to metatheatrical commentary on the limitations of the role Shakespeare had written for him, and his perceived need to absorb Antonio’s role to make showing up to perform worthwhile—all in hilarious rhyming verse, along with Hindi adlibs that kept an audience filled with festivalgoers who understood the language in stitches.
The entire cast—consistently referred to as a “Chorus”—joined the three musicians on a red platform upstage center for the entire performance, watching the action (and the audience) from the rear of the platform, under a gorgeous red-washed portrait of Shakespeare’s head emerging from a vibrant lotus flower in a gilt frame. In addition to Dasgupta, Gagan Singh Riar, who portrayed Uncle Toby, also repeatedly broke character to alternately flirt with and taunt the audience. In a characteristically deflationary couplet, he damned Sir Andrew (Aadar Malik) with the faint praise that he “speaks with such flair, you’ll scour the dictionary for his words in despair.”
Orsino (Sagar Deshmukh) repeatedly directly invoked Shakespeare, and his interactions with Cesario/Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) looked wittily ahead to their ultimate union from the outset. In the first scene between them, they hugged one another; as they broke apart, she self-consciously adjusted her breast binding while he grabbed his own chest in clear recognition of her breasts, turning to face the audience with mouth agape in over-the-top consternation. In addition to physical comedy such as this, the song titles foretold much later outcomes in the play, as when the first introduction to Toby and Maria (Trupti Khamkar) bore the supertitle, “Love Song of Toby and Maria.”
Olivia’s willing suspension of disbelief in the face of Cesario’s lame cross-dressed disguise reached its zenith in uproarious physical comedy after the intermission. Seductively singing her heart out, Mansi Multani (Olivia) made the most of her substantial height advantage over Kulkarni’s Cesario, gripping him/her into an embrace that planted his/her face squarely in her bosom. A make-out session with a prone Cesario produced the hilarious cosmetic malfunction of a full layer of Cesario’s drawn-on moustache transferred to Olivia’s face, which Olivia then smeared back onto Cesario’s temple.
The “duel” between Sebastian and Andrew was staged as a sing-off, with each combatant backed by half of the Chorus: Orsino, Feste, Olivia and Viola were initially Team Sebastian, while Toby, Maria and Malvolio backed Andrew, but Orsino switched teams at the height of the musical battle to end up with Andrew. The musical comedy replacement of the play’s physical fight was of a piece with other production choices, including the decision to retain lines about sending the yellow-stockinged Malvolio to an asylum, while his scene of torture by “Sir Topas”/Feste was completely cut. Choices such as these produced an entirely sunny performance, for although Malvolio was still wounded when the deception practiced upon him with Maria’s crafty letter was revealed (along with Olivia’s marriage to Sebastian), he still got the opportunity to offer a marital garland of flowers to women in the audience during the closing “Wedding Song” for the three couples celebrated in the finale. In the end, musicians, chorus, and audience were all in it together in Piya Behrupiya.
Regina Buccola is a professor and the chair of the Department of Literature and Languages at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where she also serves as core faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies. She has published several books on early modern British drama and culture, most recently as editor of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Critical Guide and co-editor, with Peter Kanelos, of Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Suiting the Action to the Word. Recent journal publications have appeared in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England and Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation. She serves as the scholar-in-residence at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and is one of the Midwest American reviewers for the online journal, Reviewing Shakespeare.