A Midsummer Night's Dream
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
April 25, 2012
William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of his most frequently produced comedies. There are many reasons for this. The play is well balanced with some earnest sincerity coupled with likable humor. There are multiple equally sizable roles for the cast, that each provide a moment or more for the artist to shine. It is an audience favorite.
In a very tight nutshell, Theseus and Hippolyta are royals who are getting married. To their nuptial gathering comes a local well to do father (Egeus) who is fed up with his daughter (Hermia) for not wanting to marry his choice for her (Demetrius) but another lad (Lysander). Demetrius has been stringing along another young lady on the side (Helena) who is still head over heels for him. All four lovers end up fleeing to the forest where they are pounced upon by the local forest fairy population, who are having their own romantic challenges. To the mix comes a group of local workers who aim to put on a play in honor of the royal wedding. They also get in the way of some fairy action with alarming results. It’s cute, it’s fun, and it can be a laugh riot—which is what make this production so disappointing.
Although the scenic design by Mark Wendland, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, costume design by Andrea Lauerm, choreography by George De La Pena, original music by Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery, and sound design by M. Florian Staab all add some interesting aspects to the production, they are not enough to overcome some of the bewildering casting and choices by director Tony Speciale.
I have no problem with artists who are known more for film or television being given opportunities on the stage, if they trained and/or have the style to put it off. From a business angle I understand that “names” can pull in tourists. But if the artists don’t have a clue about the phrasing, you are not doing the production or the audience any favors.
Jordan Dean as Demetrius and Nick Gehlfuss as Lysander are both attractive men who manage the dialogue well enough when they aren’t speeding through it, but they look so much alike that it becomes confusing at times even if you know the play well. Why that choice was made, I don’t know. Christina Ricci as Hermia and Halley Wegryn Gross as Helena fall short in both phrasing of the dialogue and production of the voice, choosing to whine like Kardashian sisters, while pounding the lines with an anvil. There are a lot of Shakespeare coaches for hire, not to mention if you throw a rock in NYC you will hit a trained young actor who would be thrilled to play one of these roles. Why weren’t they cast?
Then we have the local workers, or "mechanicals" as they are called, trying to put on a play within a play that can often be hysterical, and is the ending finale to the show. In this production both Nick Bottom, a weaver played here by Steven Skybell, and Frances Flute, a bellows mender played by David Greenspan, choose to recite their final monologues as if they were suddenly in a serious drama, resulting in an uncomfortable silence from the audience and an ending that felt like the air had been let out of the balloon. Who made this choice? Surely not Shakespeare.
Thankfully some in the cast know what they are doing. Bebe Neuwirth has a mature grace and eloquence as both Hippolyta and Titania, the fairy queen. Anthony Heald as both Theseus and Oberon, the king of the fairies, is a shining example of how to relay the poetry of the Bard while arching the phrases beautifully. Taylor Mac has great fun with the role of the fairy Puck, and is a good example of being able to take some liberties with the text while still staying on track with the “spirit” of the piece. Special mention must also be given to fight choreographer Carrie Brewer, who creates some wonderfully frantic and lively stage combat.