By William Shakespeare; Reimagined by Mary Jo Bono
Produced and Directed by Stephen Michael Rondel
Off Off Broadway, Classic Play
Runs through 4.26.15
The Celebration of Whimsy, 21-A Clinton Street
by Linda Buchwald on 4.20.15
Anna-Sophie Vandenberk and Lily Davis in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jeff Cate.
BOTTOM LINE: This modern, reimagined A Midsummer Night's Dream is a great way to introduce children to Shakespearean comedy and language.
One of the most famous lines in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is, "What fools these mortals be." We'd probably look even more ridiculous to him now, with our heads always buried in our cell phones and other devices. In Mary Jo Bono's reimagining of the play for the New Acting Company, Hermia and Helena are two teenagers (authentically played by two actual teenagers -- Eloise Esseks and Anne-Sophia Vandeberk, respectively) who never look up from their phones to see the fairies in Central Park.
The play is performed at a theater called The Celebration of Whimsy. The set by Dan Paul Roberts feels appropriately whimsical, like stepping into a picture book of Central Park (if picture books had projections.)
This production effectively narrows the cast down to eight by making Lysander and Demetrius appear only in text messages. As in the original, both males like Hermia, and Helena pines after Demetrius. Instead of marriage, the goal here is prom.
Hermia and Helena also have to see a play for an assignment for drama class, which is a smart way to get the Mechanicals in this new version. They have been reduced to three -- Bottom (Andrea Alton), Flute (Madeline Calandrillo, doubling as Cobweb), and Quince (Allen Warnock) -- but are no less silly and inept at producing plays than in the original. This version also keeps the plot of Titania (Lily Davis) and Oberon (Christian Noojin) fighting. Of course, Oberon gets revenge by telling Puck to put magical juice from a flower on her eyes so that she will fall in love with whoever or whatever she sees first. In this case, Bottom turned into an ass.
Though Hermia and Helena speak in modern language using expressions like "Totes!" the fairies and the players speak in Shakespeare's words. The children in the audience (and there were a lot) didn't seem to have any trouble understanding the Shakespearean dialogue. In fact, they frequently laughed along with the adults at scenes like Bottom dying as Pyramus in the play-within-a-play.
Not only does this production introduce new audiences to Shakespeare, but it also teaches about the value of unplugging. It even passes the Bechdel test as Hermia and Helena realize boys aren't everything.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream plays at the Celebration of Whimsy, 21-A Clinton Street, through April 26, 2015. Performances are Fridays at 7PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 1PM and 5PM. Tickets are $18 ($25 at the door) and are available online at smarttix.com or by calling 212-868-4444.)