The lights were shining bright on ShakespeareNYC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, certainly appropriate to the season. As Theseus (Peter Herrick) and Hippolyta (Patricia McNamara) and their courtiers entered in stylish, up-to-date fashions perfect for a downtown party (black suits and dresses, touches of white), it was apparent that the classical columns and draperies of the mostly white set were to be taken as seriously as, well, the idea of fairies anointing a mortal’s eyes with the juice of a flower that will cause instant, overwhelming love for the first object seen.
But it’s up to another of Shakespeare’s overbearing fathers, this time Egeus (John Montague), to get the plot moving by threatening his daughter Hermia (Katherine Kelly Lidz) with death if she doesn’t marry Demetrius (Matt Mercer), the suitor he has chosen. So there’s nothing for Hermia and her lover Lysander (Jon Dean) to do except escape to the forest. And you know the rest -- fairies, love, and those workingmen rehearsing their play. But with certain touches, and some extremely funny performances, director/designer Beverly Bullock made some lovely magic. Not all was as magical as it might have been, and the four lovers all started off somewhat shakily, but they either relaxed into what they were doing, or they let the words carry them through, and they all warmed up and loosened up quite nicely once they got to the forest (Shakespeare’s forests are notorious for having that effect on people). So Dean’s callow Lysander turned genuine, Kelly Lidz’s spoiled Hermia became perky, Mercer’s kiss-ass Demetrius went with the love juice and didn’t look back, and Carrie-Ann Brown’s Helena stopped fighting her height and gawkiness and stood up, delightfully, for herself.
But most wonderful were those Mechanicals, those guys who don’t really belong anywhere but are convinced of their own specialness, and indeed, each was special, and each was very, very funny. It is so easy to overplay these guys for cheap laughs, but there was nothing cheap here. Bottom (Benjamin Rishworth) was vainglorious and proud, Flute (Jonathan J. Lidz) first fighting playing a woman then giving it his all, Snug (Tyler Ashby Jones) finding playing a lion both terrifying and liberating, Snout (David Blatt) with his hangdog look, proud to be the wall, Jeff Reibe’s shy but game Starveling, and their controlling yet loving director Quince (Nicholas Stannard), who mouthed each line as rehearsed and later delivered by his actors. Their production of Pyramus and Thisby, which can in lesser hands seem an unnecessary addendum to Dream, here became a gleeful topper.
Some other gems of performances came from Joanie Schumacher as a quirky but scene-stealing Titania who not only held her own opposite Geoffrey Dawe’s Oberon (no mean scene-stealer himself) but was truly, genuinely attracted to Bottom as a donkey. And McNamara’s Hippolyta, in her few lines and fine reactions, showed a relationship with Oberon that was adult and worthy of further exploration (get me re-write!). Funny directorial touches abounded -- best being the recurring sight gag of Hermia lugging her wedding dress and luggage through the forest. It was funny each time.
Also with (and doing justice to Bullock’s costume designs) Kristen Hammer (as a Puck more perky than puckish); Sri Gordon, Gretchen Howe, Lisa Came and Hannah Wolfe as colorful, playful fairies; Kaleb Szabo as the Indian Child; and Catherine Hennessey as Philostrate, who gave her one-and-a-half scenes so much perception and humor that the rewrite woman has a lot of work to do.
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Copyright 2005 David Mackler