"If music be da food of love, go play on, gimme mo' den extra." Sound familiar, eh, brah? These are the opening lines in "Twelf Nite O Wateva!," James Grant Benton's Hawaiian pidgin version of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night, or What You Will," at East West Players.
Don't fret about the language barrier. You'll get every comic beat in Benton's delightfully revisionist conceit. Not only does the Illyrian seacoast of Shakespeare's comedy lend itself perfectly to the play's tropical setting, but the breezy blending of slangy English and idiomatic Hawaiian blows new life into the comedy like a brisk trade wind. All this and authentic Hawaiian hula dancing, too.
The time of the play is given as "A while back, brah," but what we have here is obviously a relatively pristine Hawaii, before its corruption as a tourist mecca. Only the huge silver cross sported by the repressively moralistic Malolio (the Hawaiianized version of Malvolio) hints that the missionaries have already insinuated themselves into paradise. Despite the play's being set in the past, the lingo is as cheeky and contemporary as modern-day slang, even to the point of a few judiciously applied four-letter words.
This "mainland premiere" (of a play that was written some 20 years ago and has received numerous Hawaiian productions) is remarkably faithful to Shakespeare's original, even to a fault. Benton gives us plenty of good fun, but he could well have trimmed a few more scenes, particularly in the second act, which drags a bit.