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Tim Crouch to give unfinished Shakespeare character a new voice in ‘I, Malvolio’

Courtesy of Matthew Andrews

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A one-man show set to come to Columbus will transition a minor Shakespearean character into a starring role, looping the audience in as part of the performance as well.
“I, Malvolio” is scheduled to run at the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Performance Space Thursday through Sunday.
Tim Crouch, a playwright and performer from England, wrote and will perform this one-man show. The play tells the unfinished story of Malvolio, a minor character in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” In Shakespeare’s play, Malvolio is “the pompous, pent-up steward,” according to a Wexner Center press release.
Crouch said his play will cast the audience in an opposing role to his Malvolio.
In “Twelfth Night,” there is an antagonism between Malvolio and a character named Sir Toby Belch. Crouch takes on the character of Malvolio and places the role of Belch, who is a chaotic, ill-disciplined, rambunctious drunk, on the audience.
“(The audience) can expect to be reprimanded and abused,” Crouch said.
Crouch creates a standoff between Malvolio and the audience. At certain points he engages the audience by asking someone from the audience to “kick him in the ass” and asking two members of the audience to help him hang himself.
The hourlong piece will go beyond the content of “Twelfth Night.”  
“This show will be as stripped-down as you possibly can get, with the focus on Crouch, the performer and his interaction with the audience, with only a few props and his costume,” said Chuck Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center.
Crouch said the part of Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” felt like an unfinished character who needed more developing, as he exits the play with the lines, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” This was such a strong statement that was never reconciled, therefore Crouch wanted to give Malvolio the voice “Twelfth Night” never gave him, he said.
“On many levels it’s a clown show, and on another level it is quite a dark and problematic piece about ideas of cruelty and cruelty inside an audience,” Crouch said.
Helm agreed that the play gets dark in parts.
“The way he used humor has a lot of twist that suggest darker and deeper meaning, but on the surface come off as a joke,” Helm said.
Crouch echoed this point.
“He (Malvolio) will get the audience to laugh, and then I attack them for laughing at him,” Crouch said. “I attack the audience quite a lot. Never physically, but in return the audience kind of attacks me through their laughter. I generate a cruel laughter in the audience and then I attack them for being cruel.”
Jennifer Wray, the Wexner Center’s marketing and media assistant, said Malvolio will be given a new voice onstage.
“Whether you are familiar with ‘Twelfth Night’ or not, this character of Malvolio you will find engaging and appealing and humorous and subversive,” Wray said. “It’s a funny work, meant to be accessible to both young and old audiences.”
Lesley Ferris, a professor in Ohio State’s Department of Theatre, added that Malvolio added an aspect of strife to the play.
“The character Malvolio is a controversial one,” she said. “He is a fawning duke who wants to be an upper noble, and in that era, it was difficult to shift out of your class, and he aspires to have higher goals in life.”
Ferris said the Department of Theatre is putting on its own production of “Twelfth Night” to partner with Crouch’s show.
For Crouch, this play fits in to the type of performance he has grown familiar with performing.
“The ‘Malvolio’ piece is kind of part of an unplanned series. It is the fourth of five plays that takes a minor character and kind of tells the story of those plays from their perspective,” Crouch said.
There are five pieces in which Crouch portrays a single character from a Shakespeare play. The other four feature him as Caliban from “The Tempest,” Peaseblossom from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Banquo from “Macbeth” and Sinner the Poet from “Julius Caesar.”
Helm said this trend of Crouch’s plays draws viewer interest, including in the campus area.  
“Being that Crouch’s characters are taken from Shakespeare’s plays, there are a lot of young people at OSU and in the community who have taken interest in it,” Helm said.
D-Tix for Friday’s show are available for $5 at the Union. Tickets can also be purchased through the Wexner Center’s website or at the ticket office at 1871 N. High St., and cost $10 for students, $18 for the general public and $16 for Wexner Center members.  
The play is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

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