By William Shakespeare; Directed by Dan Hasse
Produced by Shakespeare in the Square
Off Off Broadway, Classic
Runs through 8.27.18
Access Theater, 380 Broadway / The Brick, 579 Metropolitan Avenue
by Dan Rubins on 8.13.18
Kimberly Chatterjee, Rebeca Miller, Estefania Giraldo, and Felix Birdie in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser.
BOTTOM LINE: A Midsummer Night's Dream like you've never seen it staged before: this one's for the foodies.
I’ve seen some strangely-conceived productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One, in England, ended with Hermia in a mud swamp, having a nervous breakdown. Another, in Canada, began with a violent shootout. In contrast to such angsty reimaginings, there’s certainly no threat posed to the play’s joyful core in Shakespeare in the Square’s production, currently playing at the Access Theater's Gallery, a nifty space into which this staging, with an evocative wood floor design by Angelina Margolis, fits like a glove. (After the August 19 performance, the show moves to the Brick in Brooklyn.) But this Midsummer is far from normal: probably for the first time in the play’s 400-year production history, the big scene-stealer is a tangerine.
That tangerine is just one of the foods on display in this oddball production, which also features whipped cream beards, mozzarella measuring tape, and a playscript made out of wafers. (If the risk of getting grazed by some flying foodstuffs doesn’t appeal to you, think twice about sitting in the front row.) I’m not really sure why it’s food that emerges as the untidy central metaphor here: yes, breadstick crumbs, like love, can be messy, but there’s nothing particularly alimentary about the play itself, creative as some of this cuisine may be. Only when Bottom entreats his fellow would-be actors to “Eat no onions” did I detect any immediate connection between the text and the edible props.
And because, for example, the heaps of glowing blue mashed potato (it looked and smelled like mashed potato, anyway) that the quarreling quartet of lovers smear on each other’s matching grey-green uniforms don’t seem fully integrated into this tale, the food often distracts from the actors and the story instead of supporting them. There's no clear pattern, either, in how and why the food shows up: in some of the liveliest sequences, like the transformation of Bottom or the play-within-a-play, which should be a table naturally set for a massive mess, the food fetish seems conspicuously under-exploited.
Under Dan Hasse’s inventive but often manic direction, the six actors form a cohesive ensemble that moves fluidly from scene to scene (I especially enjoyed the transfiguration of most of the cast into yowling hounds). Timothy Meola’s lighting design is impressively varied for the small venue, and goes a long way in clarifying where we are and who’s who. While most of the performers take on one principal role and two smaller ones, Felix Birdie winds up portraying Lysander (one of the lovers), the faerie king Oberon, and the irrepressible weaver-turned-actor Nick Bottom. It’s a hefty workload, but Birdie nicely differentiates his characters, carries off most of the verse with clarity, and treats himself to an elaborate, exuberant death scene in the play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe.
A few performances charge through the text too hammily at the expense of clarity (the whole plotline about the stolen changeling child gets obscured in the chaos), but Kimberly Chatterjee makes for a winningly tempestuous Helena (she pulverizes that tangerine) and Beth Ann Hopkins slows down the pace to reveal the poignancy in Flute’s take on the dying Thisbe. Constantine Malahias enlivens the role of Starveling, mourning the absence of his fellow actor Bottom and then gleefully representing the moon in the troupe’s performance. The whole cast gets to show off powerful musical skills in singing and playing guitars, ukeleles, and shakers made out of Quaker Oats during some pre-show and intermission revelry.
Casting in triplicate suggests a unity across Midsummer’s three storylines that most productions do not: the tangled lovers, rude mechanicals, and warring fairies all share the same six bodies. Lysander’s malleable affection, Bottom’s over-exuberant theatricality, and Oberon’s petulant jealousy, for example, emerge from the same universal desires to be desired and to experience pleasure. Or something like that.
It’s easy to lose track of the course of true love amidst all that phosphorescent mashed potato.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream plays at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, through August 19, 2018. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesday at 8 and Thursday through Sunday at 8. The production then transfers to the Brick, 579 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, playing through August 27, 2018, with performances on Tuesday at 7, Sunday at 3, and Monday at 7. Tickets are $20 - $45 and are available at shakespeareinthesquare.com.)
A Midsummer Night's Dream is by William Shakespeare. Directed by Dan Hasse. Choreography is by Chloe Troast. Set Design by Angelina Margolis. Lighting Design by Timothy Meola. Costume Design by Richard Aaron Reynoso. Musical Direction by Jorge Morales. Food Design by Hannah Kallenbach. Stage Manager is Julianne Graffeo.
The cast is Felix Birdie, Kimberly Chatterjee, Estefania Giraldo, Beth Ann Hopkins, Constantine Malahias, and Rebeca Miller.