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A CurtainUp Review
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact.— Theseus
Midsummer Night's Dream
Christina Ricci
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
Glamour is gone, fun is in! Those who want renewed acquaintance with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream may consider dropping by the Classic Stage Company. Tony Speciale’s new mounting is not profound but it is robustly pleasing. Though it sidesteps the darker elements of Shakespeare’s most lyrical comedy, it underscores the Bard’s motto: “Those things do best please me that befall preposterously.”

Shakespeare created three intertwining worlds in his Dream: The Athenian Court of Theseus, the Fairy World and the Artisans’ World. The boundaries of all three blur here, and some characters mysteriously slip through the cracks of one, only to emerge in another. Not to worry. Eventually, these characters re-emerge , only with a deeper sense of belonging, and a clearer vision of love.

It takes gutsiness to stage a Dream nowadays! After all, how does one out-do Max Reinhardt’s 1935 classic film, which was a floridly romantic affair that charmed its generation. Or out-shine Peter Brook, who gave us his acrobatic masterpiece (with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford and London 1970, and later on tour ) that stripped all sentimentality out of the play? , Speciale isn’t imitating anybody here but conjuring his own Dream to ring true for today, going full speed ahead with slap-stick, merry pranks, and modern-day patois to punctuate Shakespeare’s verse. Indeed, the “gentles” in this production are not- so-gentle after all.

Expect the battle of the sexes to rage on in Athens and the Fairy World. While the major theme of Dream is love consummated in marriage, the lovers’ journey to their nuptials is thorny indeed.

Mark Wendland’s set is a sylvan wonderland, with a myriad pink petals cascading down on the stage early in Act 1, to form a faux carpet. To accentuate this, a giant slanting mirror is positioned so that everybody and everything that crosses the boards will be reflected out toward the audience. Reality and illusion are in an intimate relationship here, and shape-shifting is the name of the game.

The audience is put to work in this show. At the performance I attended, a man in the second row, second seat, was asked to search for a missing guitar under his seat. When he pulled out the musical instrument, and handed it to the player, he got a round of applause from all.

Although the ensemble members hold their own as they travel through the maze of this Dream, the only actor with strong Shakespearean chops is Steven Skybell. Granted, he tends to chew the scenery at times, but he rightly hams his character Bottom in the famous monologue (“Bottom’s Dream”) in Act 4 that mis-assigns the five senses and parodies holy scripture.

Many of the actors appear to be struggling with the Bard’s language. The superb Bebe Neuwirth is poised in her dual-role as Hippolyta and Titania, and dazzles as a dancer, but her voice sometimes strains to deliver her monologues. Film and TV actress Christina Ricci and the accomplished Halley Wegryn Gross are well-cast as Hermia and Helena but sound shrill as they cattily fight astride the shoulders of Jordan Dean’s Lysander and Nick Gehlfuss’ Demetrius. More effective is the wonderful David Greenspan as Francis Flute and Cobweb. Of course, there’s so much high-spirited action in this play that Speciale is right to emphasize the antics over verbal eloquence. When it comes to acting in this production, manner over matter is preferred.

In case you forgot, Shakespeare’s natural bent was comedy. Classic Stage' s Dream proves it.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tony Speciale
Cast: Anthony Heald (Theseus/Oberon), Bebe Neuwirth (Hippolyta/Titania), Taylor Mac (Egeus/Puck), Christina Ricci (Hermia), Jordan Dean (Lysander), Nick Gehlfuss (Demetrius), Halley Wegryn Gross (Helena), Rob Yang (Peter Quince/Peaseblossom), Steven Skybell (Nick Bottom), David Greenspan (Francis Flute/Cobweb), Erin Hill (Robin Starveling/First Fairy), Chad Lindsey (Tom Snout/Mustardseed), James Patrick Nelson (Snug/Moth).
Sets: Mark Wendland
Costumes: Andrea Lauer
Sound: M. Florian Staab
Original Music: Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery
Lighting: Tyler Micoleau
Fight Choreographer: Carrie Brewer
Production Stage Manager: Chandra LaViolette
Classic Stage Company at 136 E. 13th Street. Tickets: $75-$80.
From 3/28/12; opening 4/29/12; closing 5/6/12.
Tuesday @ 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Saturdays and Sundays @ 3pm.
Running time: 2 hours: 20 minutes including intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 4/25/12
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