A Midsummer Night's Dream
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 16, 2007
There are two scenes in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream that I particularly and unfailingly enjoy: the one where Demetrius and Lysander, the two Athenians in love with pretty Hermia, are charmed into wooing the hapless Helena; and the one where the Rude Mechanicals perform their ramshackle production of "Pyramus and Thisbe" for the king and his court. (A detailed synopsis of the play, if you need it, is here.)
Both of these can't-miss tour-de-forces are done justice in Theater Ten Ten's new production of Dream, in particular the latter, which—thanks to the brilliant comic acting of our nytheatre.com colleague David Fuller, as Bottom—rises to especially hilarious heights. Fuller's Bottom (so to speak) is dazzlingly earnest and dazzlingly dumb: when he makes his first entrance as Pyramus, it is with a heady gravitas such as I've not seen since Jack Benny took the stage for Hamlet's big soliloquy in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be. Later, Fuller makes more of Pyramus's death scene than most other actors I've seen essay it, again to laugh-inducing effect. It is a major treat to see Fuller back on the boards, and in a role he's obviously having such a grand time with!
Not to slight his scene partners among the Rude Mechanicals: Kristopher Monroe, in goofily awkward drag as Thisbe, is very much Fuller's match; fine support for this "leading couple" is offered by Lisa Ferraro, Gael Schaefer, Arthur Atkinson, and especially Andrew Clateman (who plays the Wall).
Now let me tell you about our four mismatched Athenian lovers, who are inhabited here most innocently and athletically by Tatiana Gomberg (Hermia), Lynn Marie Macy (Helena), Devin Delliquanti (Lysander), and David Tillistrand (Demetrius). When Hermia's erstwhile admirers turn on her (thanks to the interference of the fairies Oberon and Puck), Gomberg registers mean poutishness, but it's Macy as Helena who really comes to life, reeling at what she thinks is a nasty practical joke with a savagery that suggested, to me at least, what a thrilling Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew she might make. Tillistrand and Delliquanti, meanwhile, pussyfoot around the brawling females with comic acuity. All of the battling is broadly physicalized by director Judith Jarosz and fight choreographer Ricki G. Ravitts (with the men's cowardly jabbing especially fun to watch).
Jarosz has filled her production with some neat distinctive touches in addition to Ravitts' fights. I loved her use of two pop standards from the '60s/'70s to set the mood as the play's conflicts move toward resolution—Van Morrison's "Moondance" for Oberon and Titania's reunion, and a charming rendition of the Beatles' "Here Come the Sun," presumably by musical director Jason Wynn, for the lovers' reawakening. I also liked the jazzy riffs that the fairies break into when their queen Titania directs them to perform for Bottom. All of this music suits the story gorgeously, and I actually wished for more of it.
Matthew Smith's set and Jay Scott's lighting transform the Theater Ten Ten stage into a truly magical forest full of blinking stars and warm green foliage, a lovely setting for this enchanted comic romance. Rien Schlecht's costumes work somewhat less well, skirting a particular period or style by combining the classic and contemporary.
Another interesting idea that Jarosz uses here is some non-traditional casting. She has two women among her Rude Mechanicals, which is fine except that it begs the question why Flute must play Thisbe when two ladies are available; and she has a lively, Peter Pan-ish Puck in Annalisa Loeffler, doing a splendid job though introducing a sexual tension between Puck and Oberon that's probably not needed.
Nat Cassidy and Lisa Riegel round out the ensemble, each doubling as the authority figures Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania.
A Midsummer Night's Dream seems to get done more than any other of Shakespeare's comedies, and that's probably because it offers actors and creators such delightful opportunities to make it their own. David Fuller has certainly given us an indelible Bottom, and for his performance alone this Dream is worth taking in. But in just about every department, this revival is a true success, and if by some chance you've never seen this tasty morsel on stage, then by all means seize this chance to sample it.