A Midsummer Night's Dream
nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
July 5, 2011
Usually, I don't like to attend shows that I have been involved with in the past. (I acted in Midsummer and have seen it done many times). But something told me that the Cell and the Hive's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream would be different. Still, I was reluctant to review this play, but a little voice told me to do it. I'm happy to say that I am glad I listened to the little voice (maybe it was Puck?).
The Cell and the Hive have joined creative forces to produce a new contemporary gender bending production of this classic Shakespearean play. The two couples—Helena and Demetrius, and Lysander and Hermia are gay—one lesbian and one male. Right away I was enthralled by this new interpretation. Could this love story, usually about heterosexual couples, work with homosexual relationships? Absolutely; in fact, Puck waves a rainbow flag in one scene as a triumph to gays. This is very timely with the recent social and political legalization of gay marriage.
In addition, the actors playing Oberon and Titania switch genders to play Hippolyta and the Duke. To everyone's credit, one is on the edge of their seats not quite sure what will be thrown at us next.
Meghan Grace O'Leary plays Oberon and Hippolyta so convincingly that I did not even know that it was the same actor performing both roles until after the play. Although, sometimes hard to hear as Oberon, her versatility shines. Michael Raver plays Helena, a love-sick man chasing Demetrius. Raver is stunning, with impeccable comic timing while inhabiting the deep sorrow of unrequited love. He captivates the audience and commands attention, deservedly so.
Of course, one can not do A Midsummer Night's Dream justice without hilarious mechanicals, a group of poor actors who want nothing more than to perform their tale for the Duke. Ryan Lee plays Bottom, the lead actor of this knavish troupe. He has panache and captures the lovable quality of Bottom well. And Fernando Gambaroni steals the show as Starveling. His character has very few lines compared to the rest of the cast. Yet his physical life is amazing. You can't keep your eyes off him. Chris Critelli plays Puck as a zany, pill-popping fairy. While fun and full of energy, some of his choices seem disjointed and left me confused as too Puck's true nature. Still, his performance is good.
Perhaps some trimming of scenes would help us stay engaged throughout the entire show as it is a little long. But when the cast brings us back into the play, we are putty in the palm of their hands.
Director Matthew A.J. Gregory deserves praise for his ground-breaking interpretation of this play. He proves that the Shakespeare of yesterday can be just as profound today. The scene changes are very well choreographed and done in such a way that it makes these transitions seem like part of the play, which adds continuity. I was very impressed by this production as it proves that this play can still find relevance today!!! A MUST SEE!!