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A CurtainUp Review
Its comic collision of lovers -- both mortals and fairies -- and its blend of rhymed poetry, prose and music have kept A Midsummer Night's Dream high on the list of Shakespeare's best loved comedies. The special magic that is part of seeing the play in an outdoor setting takes on an added dimension in the Shakespeare & Company production that just opened at Edith Wharton's erstwhile retreat, The Mount in Lenox.
. . . I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream.
A Midsummer's Dream was the first play Tina Packer, the company's dynamic leader and artistic director, staged in the theater carved out of Wharton's back yard twenty-four eventful years ago. It is thus fitting that it should also be the company's last play before moving from Plunkett Street to Kemble Street (named after another historical figure with Lenox roots, the actress Fanny Kemble) where two new theaters are already operational and three others are on the horizon.
"O weary night, O long and tedious night", declares Helena one of the young Athenian beauties when her night in the fairy world still seems unlikely to bring a happy ending. But while the romances of Helena (Mary Hartman) and Hermia (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) take three hours to untangle, the hours fly by. The word tedious simply has no place in Ms. Packer's approach to Shakespeare. Like the Bard she knows how to weave many elements into a smooth tapestry.
She has added a timely and very funny prologue in which a group of actors posing as a crew of Massachusetts working men come tunneling down the road to the edge of the wooded stage in two pickup trucks. Another follows on a bicycle. In a droll episode prior to their metamorphoses into the Athenian working men or Rude Mechanicals they bring us up-to-date on the company's news while pretending to be picking up props -- or what a straight-faced Jonathan Epstein refers to as "ark-e-types" -- to take to the new location.
Jonathan Epstein, a Massachusetts working man a.k.a. Bottom
(photo: Kevin Sprague)
Epstein, who has yet to find a role he can not tackle, clearly enjoys this hilarious part as much as the ones he aspires to as Bottom. Unlike last summer's Twelfth Night (our review), in which his Festes stood out like a shining beacon, all the key roles here are wonderfully performed -- and well supported by the large ensemble. Epstein's fellow hardhats also move with ease into their as-written parts. Kevin Coleman, who twenty-four years ago played Oberon, is fine as the merry pranksters' leader Peter Quince. To play Oberon this time around we have Allyn Burrows, another outstanding company regular. He is blessed with a more than worthy queen in Tod Randolph. The cast is too large to comment on all.
As the add-on prologue gives the play a perspective within the timeline of Shakespeare & Company's history, Ms. Packer has worked with costume designer Arthur Oliver to further reflect on the relationship on the play in terms of time and space. Thus the fairy court is dressed to evoke Shakespeare the Elizabethan looking back to Athens. As Packer explains in her Director's Notes "Shakespeare looked back to Athens and saw how Athenian law influenced English law. I take it one or two steps further. Our own laws in America come from English and Roman law. So I clothe the lovers in Edwardian dress -- Edith Wharton's time."
Allyn Burrows and Tod Randolph, Oberon and Titania
(photo: Kevin Sprague)
The cast and the creative team are themselves links to the past and present. I've already metioned Kevin Coleman's emergence from Oberon to Quince (not to mention his real-life Quincean role as training director). The original Puck, Tony Simotes is now Ms. Packer's Associate Director, while the current Puck is her son, Jason Asprey.
Tina Packer's thoughtful innovations fit into a long tradition of presenting Midsummer in a variety of styles. In 1896 Charles Keene, the manager of London's Princess Theater, took realism to the extreme of building a full-scale workshop for Quince. In 1900 Beerbohm Tree, a London actor-theater entrepreneur like Packer, sent live rabbits scurrying across the stage during the woodland scenes. In 1998 Peter Brooks most successfully used a plain white setting and placed his actors in trapezes and other devices. More recently an Off-Broadway company, not content with Shakespeare's play by itself, did a play within a play version (see below).
This farewell to The Mount ranks with the best of these variations..
A consumer note: Be sure to bring a jacket and a blanket. It gets chilly in that magical forest.
Midsummer Night's Dream (Off-Broadway)
Midsummer Night's Dream (currently at Regents Park, London)
Midsummer Night's Dream/Shakespeare (Royal Shakespeare Company)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Packer
Associate Director ad Fight director: Tony Simotes
Asst. Director: David Wiles
Cast: principals in order of appearance):
Theseus, Duke of Athens/ Mel Cobb;
Demetrius/Henry David Clarke/Lysander/Samuel R. Gates;
Hermia/ Elizabeth Aspenlieder;
Helena/Mary Hartman;Peter Quince/Kevin G. Coleman;
Nick Bottom/Jonathan Epstein;Francis Flute/Michael Burnet
Tom Snout/Tom Jaeger;
Robin Starveling/Ty Skelton;Jason Asprey/Puck;
First Fairy/Eliza Ladd;
Oberon/ Allyn Burrows;
Peaseblossom / Kate Whitehead;
Moth/ Marzena Bukowska;
Mustardseed/ Valerie Hauss-Smith;
1 st Singing Fairy/Anne Latta;
2nd Singing Fairy/ Michelle Frank;
3rd Singing Fairy / Jennie Burkhard;
Morning Glory/Christina Depew;
Acorn/ Candace Clift;
Firefly/ Alicia Adema;
Theseus' Servant/Hilary Alcuri, Elizabeth Martin
Ensemble: Gabriel Vaughan, Rebecka Jones, Joy Lamberton, Kyle Terry, Daniel King, Robert Doris, William Barclay, Robert McDonald, Holly Myers, Elisabeth Martin, Brian Mason, Francine Ciccarelli
Vocal Coach: Elizabeth Ingrarn
Movement Director: Susan Dibble
Scenic Designer Jim Youngerman
Costume Designer Arthur Oliver
Lighting Designer Michael Giannitti
Sound Designers Jason Fitzgerald, Mark Huang, Dan Cooper
Composers Michael Gandolfi and Dan Cooper
Asst. Costume Designer. Heather Long
Additional Music: Norbert Palej
Lullabye theme: Dan Cooper and Carolyn Kelley
Conductor: Stefan Asbury
Musicians Stephen Banzaert, Lynn Bechtold, lxi,Chen, Joseph Conyers.
Dan Cooper, Tom Cuppies, Alison D Amato, Kelly Daniels,
Alicia DiDonato, Michael Gandolfi, Solomia Ivakhiv,
Demetrios Karamintzes, Katherine Kayalan,
Bridget Kibbey, Eliza Ladd, Simon McDonald,
Nathan Schmidt, Bill Wozniak
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours; one 15 minute intermission
Shakespeare & Co. at The Mount in Lenox,
Performances: Tue, Fri, Sat, Sun at 8 pm-- $26-$36, Tuesday nights 50% off Berkshire residents
For other special deals check the company Web Site
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 7/28 performance