William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night’s Dream
June 2-4, 2011 at The Producer’s Club
Reviewed by Arlene McKanic
The Queens Shakespeare Inc.’s giddy production of A Midsummer Night’s dream has just wrapped up its run at The Secret Theatre, their Long Island City location. Now the company’s moving into Manhattan for performances at the Producers Club on June 2 - 4th at 7 p.m.
The Secret Theatre’s done Shakespeare’s nutty, not-quite-as-wispy-as-it-seems comedy before. Last time, I believe, the cast wore pajamas. This production has an edgier and more Celtic flavor, full of gossamer, feathers and twinkling lights as well as fur loincloths, crowns made of antlers, green hair and painted faces.
For those who haven't seen it, the play concerns Hermia, who’s in love with Lysander, the man her father Egeus doesn’t want her to marry. As this is Athens back in the day - way back in the day -- this matters. If Hermia doesn’t marry her father's choice, Demetrius, she will either be put away in a convent, or be put to death. The play opens with the Duke, Theseus, telling Hermia she should obey her father, even if she can’t stand the chap he wants for her. Theseus isn’t thinking as logically as he could either, as he’s in love with Hippolyta and they’re soon to be married. In the meantime, Helena, Hermia’s BFF from childhood, is madly in love with Demetrius, who scorns her. Watching all this are the fairies, led by Oberon and Titania, who are having some problems of their own. On top of this a bunch of workingmen who wish to put on a silly play for the Duke’s nuptials also get caught up in the mess between fairies and mortals. Before we arrive at the happy ending they’ll be hilarious mix ups, all presided over by Puck, Oberon’s jolly servant.
The good and notable thing about Jonathan Emerson’s direction is that he lets us know that the principals are not folks you want to mess with. Heidi Zenz’s Hermia (she played a lovely Hippolyta in the pajamaed version a couple of years back) really, truly, deeply hates Demetrius. She bares her teeth at him, her eyes glitter with revulsion; you think she’s going to spit in his face. Thus her transition from Helena’s loving friend to a hellcat who’d scratch out her eyes is completely believable. The fairies are even more formidable. Brian Walters and Helyn Rain Messenger convey the feeling that both Oberon and Titania are used to being obeyed -- instantly. And they don’t tolerate foul-ups. Consider the scene where Puck, played by the wonderfully kinetic Emerson, mistakenly charms Lysander instead of Demetrius and Oberon goes a bit Jack Bauer on him. Notice also the way Titania has of glaring at the most dimwitted of her attending fairies, or her fury at Oberon when he suggests that she cede her serving boy to him (played sweetly by little, hobbit haired Kyrian Friedenberg).
The rest of the cast also has a jolly time misbehaving. Kathleen Fletcher is completely goofy as Helena. Lanky and wild-haired, Fletcher is perfect for the kind of physical comedy the role requires. Sajeev Pillai and Bradley LeBoeuf are both lovable dopes as Lysander and Demetrius, both when they’re “normal” and especially when they’re bewitched. Ross Pivec is intriguing as Egeus. Dressed in a conservative suit and tie, we wonder if he’s really willing to sentence his daughter to death because she won’t marry this Demetrius clown. Steven Martin is an easy going Theseus, and Emily Stokes’ dignified and pleasant Hippolyta can’t help but remind one of the newly minted Duchess of Cambridge. Stokes is far more playful in her other role as Titania’s servant, Cobweb. The working men, John E. Sims as Snout, Lee Solomon as Flute, Jessica McHugh as Snug, Patrick Mahoney as Peter Quince, Adam Gallinat as Bottom, and Sarah Pencheff as Starveling are properly ridiculous, especially Gallinat’s Bottom; what briefly happens to him in the enchanted forest outside Athens serves him right. Natasha Murphy, Sally Song, Melissa Damas and Anna Wallace-Deering round out the cast as Titania’s servants. Emerson and Joseph Sebring’s set design is simple, consisting of a few triffid like trees strung with Christmas lights. The multi-talented Messenger’s costumes are both fey and pagan and hint, like the acting, at a level of savagery. All in all, a good show.
Theater Review (NYC): A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Fairy Queen From Queens in Manhattan
Coming into Manhattan like a ship at Fleet Week, The Queens Shakespeare Company arrived this week-end with its large troupe to finish up a successful run of its spring A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Moving from Flushing’s Bowne Street Church to the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, and then to the Grand Theatre at The Producers Club on 44th Street, the theatre company, despite an uneven cast, fulfills the comic promises of one of Shakespeare’s greatest entertainments.
Director Jonathan Emerson (who also plays an exuberant to the point of hyperactive Puck) efficiently steers the large ensemble into the small space of the off-off-Broaday theatre in the wild west of Hell’s Kitchen of New York City. In his director’s notes, Mr. Emerson declares his love for the mythologies touched upon by Shakespeare’s fantastical fairy characters contained in the parallel plots of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the Fairy Queen Titania (Helyn Rain Messenger), her fractious (but sometimes seemingly bored) King, Oberon (Brian Walters), and their entourage. The dynamism of Flogging Molly, the Celtic-American LA Punk Band, anticipates the production, and the rest of the evening attempts to maintain that punk sensibility, most successfully by the clownish Helena (Kathleen Fletcher) in mad pursuit of her undeserving but beloved Demetrius (Bradley LeBoeuf.)
One of two Austinite actors in the production, Ms. Fletcher, whose Helena is not to be confused with fellow Texan, Helyn Rain Messenger (Titania.) What is that slogan from Austin…Keep Austin Weird? The actresses seem to bring a little of that sentiment into their characters. Ms. Fletcher especially brings a level of clowning to Helena that shies just an inch from a Stooge and not the Iggy Pop kind. She wears green Converse and a polka dot jumper, but it’s the physical humor, including climbing in and out of the audience’s laps that define her slapstick. It’s the kind of Shakespeare that we’ve seen lately coming out of the likes of England’s Propeller Company, out-schticking the schtick.
Ms. Messenger is an attractive Titania. You have no doubts as to why Oberon would bore her and her attentions turn elsewhere, but to a ass-headed Bottom? I don’t care how long in the tooth Bottom’s character might get over these centuries of production; Bottom’s transformation is still a sublimely comic moment that will make audiences laugh well into millenniums, if it is done well like it is here with Adam Gallinat as the aspiring thespian, Nick Bottom the Weaver.
Other stand out performances include Jessica McHugh as Snug with her carpenter’s belt filled with grooming tools: hairbrushes, curling irons, and nail files; Sally Song as Titania’s Peaseblossom sits enrapt by the foolish mortals as if she herself were enchanted rather than the enchanter; and Natasha Murray moves with a dancer’s grace in the sometimes claustrophobic space of the theatre/Athens forest.
Sajeev Pillai as Lysander is one of the highlights of the production. The actor has a half-smile on his face that doesn’t come off as a smirk but rather as an existential joy. Even when impeded in his pursuit of Hermia (Heidi Zenz), Lysander’s good humor speaks of an essential elation that is sheer charisma. No wonder Hermia would risk death to run away with him. Her choice? Demetrius or death? She picks Lysander, of course.
Tonight may be the closing night, but this will be the temporary finish to the production which has plans of continuing the course of love that never runs smooth in Saratoga Springs in November. Produced by Nanette Asher, this A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an energetic, enthusiastic rendition of one of William Shakespeare’s most self-referential and funniest plays. As the director cites in his notes, “beart de réir ár mbriathar,” Gaelic for “action to match our speech.” With occasional exception, this play’s action matches the speech, and young violinist (fiddler?) Kyrian Friedenberg as the Changeling Child, the source of Titania and Oberon’s parental power struggle, brings a lovely reflection on the director’s intent at a Celtic re-imagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Remaining cast: Melissa Damas (Mustardseed), Anna Wallace-Deering (Moth), Steven Martin (Theseus), Patrick Mahoney (Peter Quince), Sarah Pencheff (Starveling), Ross Pivec (Egeus), John E. Sims (Snout), Lee Solomon (Flute), Emily Stokes (Hippolyta,Cobweb). Tara Mary Schmitt (Stage Manager).