Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream may be William Shakespeare's most indestructible play. The plot is so solidly silly, the characters' desires and dreams so clearly etched, that the show is always fun. I have never seen a boring Midsummer Night's Dream; unfortunately, I've also never seen an ideal one. In many cases the weakness has taken the shape of a movie or TV star who simply lacks the chops to do Shakespeare. For example, a production years ago in California featured Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Loretta Divine, both of whom are fine performers, but both of whom just couldn't pull off their roles.

In the current, highly entertaining production at the Classic Stage Company, imaginatively and clearly directed by Tony Speciale and nicely choreographed by George De La Peña, the marquee names are Bebe Neuwirth and Christina Ricci. Both are game, attractive, hard-working, good-humored, and not that good. While they handle the physical demands of their roles beautifully, neither expresses the music of the dialogue--or sometimes even the meaning.

The rest of the cast, however, ranges from good-enough to quite good, with Anthony Heald leading the cast with two distinct and excellent performances, one as Theseus and one as Oberon. Jordan Dean, Nick Gehlfuss, and Halley Wegryn Gross do well as Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena, respectively. Taylor Mac brings much energy and humor--but perhaps too much shtick--to the roles of Egeus and Puck; it's one thing to casually toss off "Lord, what fools these mortals be" and another to dump it in the trash.

In many ways, the true stars of this production are Speciale, De La Peña, set designer Mark Wendland, costume designer Andrea Lauer, lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, and in particular, fight choreographer Carrie Brewer, who has staged as funny and convincing a scene of extended slapstick as I have ever seen (kudos too to Ricci, Dean, Gehlfuss, and Gross for their energy, bravery, and physical skill). The show is visually enchanting, from falling leaves to evening lights to very attractive, albeit gratuitous, semi-nudity. The whole audience gets to experience the dream.

This is not the ideal production I hope someday to see, but it is an extremely pleasurable evening in the theatre.

(tdf ticket; first row, extreme, extreme side)

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