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A CurtainUp Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream -Mobile Unit
Expect to have your senses bombarded by the bright lights and pop music blaring from a boom box as you enter the Shiva Theater and the company dances up a storm at the pre-show block party. And you won't need your Google Maps to get your geographical bearings here. Two intersecting street signs at the far corner of the performing space inform us that we are at the intersection of Astor Place and Lafayette Street.
Kimie Nishikawa's no-frills set includes tiny green pennants suspended over a bare performing space, with the audience sitting around it on all sides. And the props? Just miscellaneous items like bug spray, bubble-machines, a few crates, and a ladder that serve multiple purposes.
Jenny Koons, who directs with a playful hand, has a terrific company to help her pull off her urban vision for the Dream. The casting is a color- and gender-blind. All the actors double or triple their parts, with the exception of the sweet-faced Bottom and the mischievous Puck. Consequently, we get to see not only their acting range but physical dexterity as they change costumes in plain view of the audience.
The real key to any Dream of course is to find the right actor to play Nick Bottom. Hhappily, Christopher Ryan Grant is the perfect performer to fill the sneakers of the clown. He seems born to play the protagonist, and one can only sit back and laugh at his braggadocio and zany antics throughout. Grant's Bottom wants his finger in every pot—and part. He will, in fact, do his best to persuade stage director Peter Quince (David Ryan Smith) to let him perform the entire personae dramatis of the play-within-the play that will be hilariously performed before Duke Theseus and his court in Act 5. Yes, Grant's Bottom is an Everyman, a mover and shaker who magically insinuates himself into all four worlds of the Dream.
Grant is supported by an ensemble who can all boogie and breathe out their iambic pentameters with equal grace. At first blush, Carolyn Kettig and Rosanny Zayas both seem to be miscast as Hermia and Helena, who are typically played by a short brunette and tall blonde, respectively. But does it really matter if Kettig's Hermia has red-hair, and Zayas black locks? Hardly. For as Helena observes early on in the play: "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,/ And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind."
David Ryan Smith's Fairy and Natalie Woolams-Torres' Puck are a far cry from the gossamer-spun fairies in Max Reinhardt's 1935 Hollywood film. Both inhabit their characters with a New York attitude and effectively channel their magic through the sheer force of Shakespeare's language.
Thanks to the nine-member cast's collective creative talents, Shakespeare's words truly become flesh here. Having seen so many Dreams over the years, it's easy to become jaded from over-exposure but this new mobile production has deservingly carved out its own niche, and the 16-year-old who accompanied me loved the New York-centric setting and fun with a capital “F".
The Mobile Unit, which was launched in 2010, is a revitalization of founder Joseph Papp's Mobile Theater that began in 1957. For the past ninth seasons, it has done three-week tours to the five boroughs, visiting prisons, senior homes, homeless shelters, and recreation centers. Following its three-week tour, it returns to its downtown home at Astor Place for a free sit-down run. Considering the price of a Broadway show nowadays, this may well be the best theater bargain in New York.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jenny Koons
Cast: Marinda Anderson (Hippolyta/Titania), Leland Fowler (Demetrius/Flute), Christopher Ryan Grant (Bottom), Merritt Janson (Theseus/Oberon), Carolyn Kettig (Hermia/Starveling), Jasai Chase Owens (Lysander/Snug), David Ryan Smith (Egeus/Quince/Fairy), Natalie Woolams-Torres (Puck), and Rosanny Zayas (Helena/Snout).
Sets: Kimie Nishikawa
Costume design: Hahnji Jang
Stage Manager: Howard Tilkin
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place. Tickets are free. For more information, visit publictheater.org
From 10/28/18; opening 11/02/18; closing 11/17/18.
Monday through Saturday @ 7pm.
Running time: 90 minutes
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 11/01/18.
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