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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Masterworks is the brainchild of Broadway and Off-Broadway producer Erik Krebs and artist director Christopher Scott. The company's mission, as stated in a plea for support inserted in the playbill, is to "present "high quality productions at reasonable ticket prices" in order to "ignite the love of live theater among young people." Krebs writes that he aims to "choose great plays and musicals that every young person should have an opportunity to see." The company's first offering was The Glass Menageries, which ran at the 47th Street Theater during May. A Midsummer Night's Dream will be at the same venue for much of June.
With actors doubling roles and some minor parts combined, a cast of thirteen, including New York stage veterans and some well-trained fledglings, covers the myriad characters in Shakespeare's comedy. Among the familiar faces are Lou Liberatore, a stalwart of Circle Rep, and Jan Leslie Harding, whose career has included work with Sam Shepard, Julie Taymor and Engarde Arts.
Liberatore plays Hermia's unsympathetic father and the earnest, put-upon carpenter, Peter Quince, leader of the Rude Mechanicals and director of their play-within-the-play. Harding can't be accused of upstaging her colleagues (she's too professional for that); but she's the focus of hilarity whenever onstage as a wacky, hard-working fairy (a combination of the many sprites in Shakespeare's original). In Harding's hands, this character is a bumblingly energetic relative of Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby.
Set during the nuptial festivities of Duke Theseus (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte) and Hippolyta, the Amazonian queen (Jenny Strassberg), A Midsummer Night's Dream depicts amorous couplings gone awry at various social levels of Athens and in the fairy kingdom. As Lysander (Reynaldo Piniella) remarks in the play's opening scene, "For aught that I could ever read, / Could ever hear by tale or history, / The course of true love never did run smooth.")
Forbidden to wed by paternal command and ducal decree, Hermia (Sheria Irving) elopes to the woodlands near Athens with Lysander. Demetrius (Emilio Paul Tirado), who wants to marry Hermia, and Helena (Becca Ballenger), who has set her cap for Lysander, pursue the lovers. There's a lot of additional activity in the nocturnal woods: Oberon (Guilarte), king of the fairies, is feuding with his queen, Titania (Strassberg), over custody of a changeling child; the Mechanicals are rehearsing the play they hope to perform at the Duke's wedding feast; and Puck (Nick Cearley) is wreaking various kinds of havoc with misapplied magic spells and a love potion.
Warren Jackson as Bottom, the dunderheaded weaver, is both funny and poignant when, transformed by fairy magic into a donkey, he plays an improbable love scene with Titania. Jackson provides the evening's high point as a clueless Pyramus in the Mechanicals' presentation of "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe." He and his fellow Mechanicals — Em Groslad as Thisbe, Kevin Cristaldi as the Lion, Jack Herholdt as the Wall and Harding as Moonlight — traverse adroitly the razor-thin line between portraying hammy amateurs and capitulating to overwrought slapstick and excess mugging. Their theatrical instincts, reinforced by Woodard's direction, are impeccable in this regard.
Scenic designer Raul Abrego and costumer Dustin Cross have assembled odds and ends, possibly salvaged from attics, closets, and charity hampers, to give the production a jazzy, eye-catching look. Using multiple levels with no scenic scenic clutter, Abrego and director Woodard make the most of the tiny stage of the 47th Street Theater; and the action moves swiftly and cinematically from city to forest and fairy land and back to the city for a sprightly conclusion to the lovers' torments.
Masterworks' Midsummer Night's Dream is the antithesis of Julie Taymor's lavish production for Theatre for a New Audience, which inaugurated the Brooklyn's Polonsky Shakespeare Center in 2013. This streamlined production is an introduction to Shakespeare's lighter side. It's resourceful, entertaining and, most of all, accessible to all ages and any budget.
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