A Midsummer Night's Dream
nytheatre.com review by Nicole Higgins
July 9, 2009
[Note: If you need a synopsis of the plot, read this.]
Just under Delancey Street, near the on/off ramp for the Williamsburg Bridge, there is a Parking Lot alive with theatre thanks to the continuing efforts of The Drilling CompaNY. So bring your friends (it's a five minute ride from Williamsburg on your bike!), and some snacks, maybe even the kids (this would be a fantastic introduction to Shakespeare), because it's FREE, easily accessible by the F and J trains and wonderfully entertaining. The direction and the cast and the parking lot itself contribute all the right elements: lots of action, grit, and tremendous laughs all the way through.
I walked over the Bridge to get there super early for the company's opening night, because I read that it might be hard to score a chair. It turned out that the information I was given is spot-on, so bring a cushion or a chair for yourself if you want to show up closer to 8pm when they get started.
This urban production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is in the very capable hands of director Kathy Curtiss, who translates the story to Manhattan 2009, replacing location references in the text with the Upper East Side and Bleecker Street to securely anchor the action. The fairies, thanks to the fine styling of Lisa Renee Jordan (costume design), are macked out in goth/punk and detailed with black ostrich feathers, reminding me of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in a good way. The stage is the parking lot, and it works very well as a "found" amphitheater. Rebecca Lord (set design) makes perfect use of tarps, wooden crates, and a graffiti banner backdrop to give the cast just enough to work with without making it look like a "set."
If you have never seen Shakespeare performed outside now is your chance, because watching this production made me believe Midsummer was made to be performed outside. Sure there might be people and cars and noise, but that's just the spice that adds to this production as they aren't pretending to be in the "wood." Have no worries about hearing the lines as this cast has it all under control. In fact passersby were often drawn into the audience by the action, which is as it should be.
Choreographed by Katie Bradley, there is a dance crew "war" between fairy factions, which then opens up to a traditional Greek dance by the wedding party, serving to not only bring the community on stage and off together, but also to pay tribute to the event in the text (the wedding) which loosely ties all the action together. Let it not be thought that the fairies get to have all the fun, daring physical action on and above the flat top is performed by the entire cast, but I must mention Jasper Stoffer (Demetrius) and Jordan Feltner (Lysander) for keeping an audience of all ages totally riveted by their comic stage combat skills. The kids love that stuff, and so do I.
Eileen Townsend (Hermia) has my deepest respect for literally flying through the air in a (seemingly) wild attempt to unite physically with her Lysander. The pair engages in some brilliant slapstick, which culminates in a moment that had the entire audience groaning out loud in sympathy. While the fairies are a powerful force in the play manipulating lovers and players, in this production it is the two pairs of lovers who ultimately capture the hearts of the audience.
The company of Players, led by David Stadler as a wonderfully realized Peter Quince, are a lively group of clowns that had me laughing all the way to the very end of what might have seemed like a long night in any other hands. (And bravo for incorporating technology jokes that make the text take on new life!) Most of the productions I've seen cut the last few scenes with the Players at the wedding to save time, but here nothing is skipped and what a treat James Davies as Bottom and Garrett Burrseon as Flute are when playing lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, you won't want to miss it!