A lark in the park

A Midsummer Night's Dream

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Phillip Emeott
Boomerang Theatre Company (212/501-4069)
Various locations
Equity showcase (closes July 17)
Review by Charles Battersby

If any one of Shakespeare's plays demands to be performed outdoors, in a park, then certainly it would be A Midsummer Night's Dream. Set almost entirely in a faerie-infested forest, this supernatural comedy is the perfect choice for any of the many theatre companies who've taken to performing Shakespeare in outdoor settings.

The Boomerang Theatre Company is one such theatre company, and performed the show in several different parks over the course of its run. For the Central Park performances, a hilltop was used as a stage, and a more perfect playing area would be hard to find. This natural stage had a large, flat rock jutting out, which formed a sort of thrust, and the actors could easily run around the sides of the hill to make exits. No actual set pieces were used, but the choice of location more than compensated for this.

While the main story of Midsummer... is about the antics of faeries and young lovers, much of the comedy comes from a subplot about a gang of laborers-turned-actors who want to put on a play for the Duke of Athens. These rude mechanicals steal the show, of course, especially in the final scene, where they perform Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare's own little commentary on hack writers and bad actors. Ron Sanborn as Bottom was at his best when playing Pyramus in this play within the play. Sanborn's purposeful overacting and scenery-chewing were a delight. Especially when surrounded by an excellent gang of (deliberately) incompetent actors for this comedic climax. Benjamin Ellis Fine also deserved credit for his portrayal of Flute as Thisbe (in a hula skirt and coconut bra).

In the main story, about faeries and lovelorn Athenians, Vinnie Penna distinguished himself as Puck, and the cute and petite Jennifer Curfman was perfectly cast as Hermia.

Director Philip Emeott chose to set the Boomerang's production in the 1950s. There's no readily discernible connection between 1950s pop culture and the comic antics of ancient Grecian faeries, but the time jump did make for a bit of fun. The mischievous faeries, for example, were portrayed as a gang of greasers with Oberon somewhere between John Travolta (circa Grease) and James Dean. The Athenians were, of course, reminiscent of S.E. Hinton's Socs. The '50s period costumes (well-designed by Carolyn Pallister) were augmented with strap-on butterfly wings for the faeries, which gave the greaser theme a touch of light-hearted goofiness.

Furthering the '50s gimmick was the fact that the handful of songs mentioned in the text were performed in a doo-wop style, or were reminiscent of '50s girl groups. This form of orchestration seemed forced, and musical gags weren't entirely successful. All songs were performed acapella (the outdoor setting prevented any significant sound design), which didn't help.

There is an ever increasing number of off-off Broadway theatre companies producing the classics outdoors. Boomerang is certainly on the right track, with its well-thought-out settings and proper choice of material.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: N/A

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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby