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A Midsummer Night's Dream

(Review by Tulis McCall)

The first thing you will notice upon entering the theatre, if your nose is in working order, is the faint smell of rubber. Those are not wood shavings covering the set, they are rubber shavings. So the room smells like an auto parts store and the stage floor is squishy. It is so squishy that it throws the actors off balance. Much like women in heels at an outdoor wedding, the actors spend a good amount of time maintaining their balance. This explains why Jordan Dean (Demetrius), Nick Gehlfuss (Lysander) use body postures that border on the absurd in the first act. In their quests for love, these two take a pounding, and the only way to stay balanced is to assume a pose that is reminiscent of a wrestler going for the gold.

What was this production team thinking?

Thank God for Anthony Heald, whose love for and understanding of this language transcends the setting as well as the set. As Theseus he achieves an elegance and grace that is the polar opposite of the anarchy and willfulness of his Oberon. His partner Bebe Neuwirth never quite achieves the same flight altitude as Hippolyta or Titania. Actually, with the exception of a few rich moments given by Steven Skybell as Bottom, none of the cast does.

This is the story of love folded in on itself so that it keeps multiplying. Theseus and Hipolyta have impending nuptials. Helena (Halley Wegryn Gross) and Hermia (Nina Ricci) have their high pitched and irritating sights set on Demetrius and Lysander respectively, in spite of Hermia's father Egeus (Taylor Mack) who wants the pairings to be otherwise. Oberon and Titania of the faerie world are having a tiff that results in Titania being placed under a spell that has her fall in love with Bottom who has been temporarily turned into a jackass. Then there is the story of Pyrauis and Thisbe, which does not turn out well at all, not at all.

In this night's dream love is not easy and fulfilling. It is a messy, many-headed, live and writhing beast, and the only one who seems not touched by it is Puck (Taylor Mack) who only delights in serving Oberon and watching the effects of his handy-work realized. In this case, Mack's fine work is diluted by the choice of sartorial excess that makes him a one man costume parade. We are so busy getting used to each costume that we don't hear what he is saying.

Ultimately it is the men who seem to have the power and it is the women who have to figure out how to plug in to the right outlet. Hermia and Helena duel over their men, but it is the men who make the final call. Oberon manipulates Titania until he gets what he needs. Theseus overrules Hermia's father in favor of the pairing sought by the lovers themselves. And in the end, it is marriage that wins as the right and honorable conclusion. Sounds like a dream to me!!!

Were this a better balanced production, we might have seen and heard more of the jewels in this language i.e. Oberon's description of Cupid. But this is an uneven production at best, starting with the bouncy stage floor, combined with the mirrored back wall whose openings occasionally block the floor choreography intended for our eyes, and finishing off with the actors' general inability to handle this text.

It isn't a boring production, however. You won't slumber as in a dream. You just won't get the goods that Shakespeare wrote and you deserve.

"[most of] the actors in the central roles handle the verse with a bluntness or blandness that often smothers its lyricism."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"The eyes have it in the visually playful production."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

The brouhaha doesn't gel into a coherent whole, and even sucks out the play's poetry and sensuality."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"We get slapstick tomfoolery rather than comedy based on character."
David Sheward for Back Stage

"One of the most dazzling, inventive and completely delightful productions of a Shakespeare comedy I've ever seen."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"A memorably lovely production."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey

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