Malvolio is a Shakespearean character, so I prepared myself to review I, Malvolio, produced by impel theatre and playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, by watching Twelfth Night. I knew close to nothing about this play, initially written and performed by Tim Crouch.
As I stood waiting to take my seat, director Kendra Jones handed me a student evaluation with structured questions about Twelfth Night. Jones informed me this is a character study of Malvolio and an interactive performance.
Naturally, I walked in to the play expecting order. What ensued was total madness. As the audience filters into the bare room, Malvolio (Justin Otto) is sitting on the floor.
In clown-like make up with his classic yellow garters (this production has imagined them as yellow socks, pulled up, with smiley faces), Malvolio is worse for wear than when we left him in Twelfth Night.
He has already descended into madness before we’ve even taken our seats. Immediately, Malvolio rails almost incomprehensibly against lies, obscenities, and idolatry. It quickly becomes clear that this is a man trying to regain the order he has lost.
In pantomiming the very acts he despises, Malvolio brings the debauchery to life on stage and subtly encourages the audience to act out as well. Malvolio inveighs against chaos as his own mind is driven into chaos, trying to keep and carry the order of world and the injustices that were done to him.
The production brilliantly creates expectations and then immediately disrupts them. Although we are told this is a character study, at no point does Otto feel like an actor playing a character. This is Malvolio, in the flesh, driven mad.
The interactive production encourages the audience to yell out, respond, and take photos and videos. Malvolio frequently speaks directly to an audience member. He demands our attention as he commands the room. When Malvolio points at one of us and blares “sit up”, “uncross your legs”, “shoulders back”, we all obediently comply.
In the second half of the play, Malvolio delves into some of the surface themes of Twelfth Night. He does so to further explain his own rage about the events. But you don’t have to be familiar with that plot to understand this one.
“I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” Malvolio quotes his infamous line five times as he vacillates between rage, manic laughter, and defeat. Justin Otto’s performance is impressively unsettling.
Malvolio brings the true misfortune of a tricked man in love to light. His story is the tragedy within the comedy of Twelfth Night and he won’t let us forget it.
This play is not for everyone, but it is written with everyone in mind. The wild stream of consciousness, the tense and intimate interactivity, and the Shakespearean quips that intermingle with colloquial language are difficult but accessible.
This is a production with many layers and you can choose to interact with it on whatever layer works for you. I highly recommend the challenge.
- I, Malvolio plays at Artscape Youngplace. (180 Shaw St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; gunshots; realistic violence or gore; audience participation.
- The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 7:30 pm
- Thursday July 4th, 7:30 pm
- Friday July 5th, 7:30 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 7:30 pm
- Monday July 8th, 7:30 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 7:30 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 7:30 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 7:30 pm
- Friday July 12th, 7:30 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 7:30 pm
Photo of Justin Otto in I, Malvolio by John Gundy