A Midsummer Night's Dream

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Kenneth Garson
The Blunt Theater Company
LaPlaza Cultural
9th Street & Avenue "C" (330-7702)
Equity showcase (Closes September 17th)
Review by Ken Jaworowski

Subtle would not be a word used to describe the Blunt Theater Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. From Puck and Oberon smoking a joint, to Titania's attendants scantily clad in shiny short-shorts, this Midsummer was a boisterous, free-flowing comedy that left little to the imagination. Yet despite the unscripted antics, the performances stayed surprisingly faithful to the playwright. Director Kenneth Garson used the bawdy capers and costumes to punctuate the text rather than patronize it, and with the help of a talented group of actors, he often hit the mark.

When Lysander and Hermia are forbidden to marry, they meet in the forest at night and prepare to elope. Following them are friends Demetrius and Helena, who are spied upon by the magical fairies Oberon, Puck, Titania, and her entourage. A team of actors also arrives to rehearse in the woods, and soon all are tangled in a series of supernatural spells and blunders.

With more than 20 characters, the risk of chaos is ever-present. This cast, however, was always in control. As Lysander, Carlos De Alba was sharp as both a passionate lover and an unlucky dupe, while Sharon Becker handled Hermia's restraint and confusion well. Joshua Kaufmann was fine as Demetrius (though, in one of the few dubious choices of the evening, he was assigned an unexplained, intermittent stutter), but Niabi Caldwell was the scene-stealer of them all. Her gangly, distressed Helena called to mind a high-school nerd who elicits equal amounts of snickers and sympathy. Difficult as it may be to balance the two, Ms. Caldwell was pitch-perfect.

It must have been tricky to appear sincere while decked out in bell-bottoms, bandana and mutton chops, but Glenn Stoops offered a game performance as Oberon. Speaking iambic pentameter in a '60s hippy drawl reminiscent of a stoned Dennis Hopper, Stoops guided the action with the help of John David West, whose likeable Puck was energetic without being manic (despite being followed around by one of Titania's fairies, a commendable chance the production took that didn't quite pan out).

Tony Sicuso was only mildly successful as Bottom, for he sounded a bit too polished and practiced for the role of an oblivious bumbler. But the rest of his cohorts, most notably the hilarious Cliff Roca as Quince, were just right.

The La Plaza Cultural was an enjoyable setting for the comedy. The raised, stepped garden provided plenty of willow trees and bushes to accommodate the fast-paced entrances and exits, and director Garson put them to good use. Yet despite the flora, this production was set firmly in the East Village rather than the Athenian woods. Pot smoking and crotch kicking were as abundant as metered verse and rhymed speeches, and t-shirts and skin-tight skirts were among the standard costumes.

In the hands of another company, such antics might have set the play into over-the-top disorder. But this cast and crew were always sincere and genuinely respectful of the work. In just under 90 minutes, the dialogue came out brisk without ever sounding rushed. And although mindful of the language, the actors never forgot to have fun; the added clowning never seemed forced or haughty. A lighter touch would have been welcomed at times, but overall the play was a success, and offered the audience a fine (and free) late-summer night's entertainment.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Ken Jaworowski