Tim Crouch, an old friend of the PuSh Festival, is back this year with I, Malvolio, on for an extended run at The Cultch (who are co-presenting the show) through February 10.
Beginning in 2003, Crouch has been writing a series of short solo works told from the point of view of secondary characters in Shakespeare's plays (Caliban from The Tempest, Peaseblossom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Banquo from Macbeth, the poet Cinna from Julius Caesar). Now it's the turn of Malvolio, the Puritanical steward to Olivia in Twelfth Night who is tricked by Sir Toby Belch and crew into thinking that his mistress loves him, and is imprisoned as a lunatic when he foolishly tries to reciprocate her phantom desire.
In Crouch's hands, Malvolio's vow at the end of Shakespeare's play to be revenged for his humiliations becomes a bravura riff on our complicity, as an audience, in those humiliations. The house lights remain up through the entire 60-minute show and various individuals are targeted to either abet Malvolio's indignities--or suffer their own--on stage. Crouch is an amazing performer, never wavering in his squint-eyed scowl, condensing the entire plot of Twelfth Night into an explosive torrent of perfectly articulated verbiage, calling out our sustained laughter with a wagging finger that is less vindictive than vindication.
Which is, finally, what Crouch achieves for this much-maligned character at the end of the show--in a conceit that is an anti-theatrical stroke of theatrical genius. For if, having lectured and hectored us for the past hour, our revels are nevertheless to continue unabated, then there is only one thing for this theatre-hating stoic to do: walk out of his own play.