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This review by Jack Florek was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved.
Review: `Midsummer Night’s Dream’
After a sharply successful five-year run in Palmer
Square, Princeton Rep has moved its summer Shakespeare Festival to
the roomier and more idyllic Pettoranello Gardens in Community Park
North on Mountain Avenue. Complete with winding paths through emerald
green trees, a lazy summertime lake with geese honking in the distance,
there seems hardly a better place to enjoy Shakespeare’s breezy paean
to youthful blood-thumping passions.
Near the start of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream,"
Egeus, Hermia’s father, demands that his daughter marry Demetrius
despite the fact that she clearly prefers Lysander. Poor Hermia and
Lysander bemoan the vulnerability of their love, seeing only confusion
and darkness in their future. But the audience already knows that
things will work out. Shakespeare, in 1595, most likely writing on
commission for a noble marriage, wasn’t in the mood to put the kibosh
on young love.
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is a romantic comedy containing
misapplied love potions, mischievous fairies, the classic confrontation
between young love and parental dictates, as well as a healthy dose
of eroticism. With 27 characters prancing through the forest at various
times, it has long been a point of discussion in undergraduate Shakespeare
courses as to just who’s play it really is. In this production there
is no contest. It is Bottom’s.
David Greenspan plays Nick Bottom with an attentive eye toward nuance,
bringing out the affable uniqueness of Shakespeare’s shrewd wise clown.
Despite the Elizabethan loftiness, Greenspan is a gifted actor and
every word out of his mouth seems natural and effortless. A common
problem in modern Shakespearean productions is that actors tend to
work so hard at delivering the language, they hardly seem to be aware
of just what the heck they are talking about. Greenspan never falls
into that trap. Whether he is rehearsing a play as the most persnickety
of his fellow Mechanicals, or falling victim to Puck’s prank and being
transformed into an ass, Greenspan’s Bottom remains believable and
Liam Christopher O’Brien, playing the dual role of Philostrate (a
paper thin character) and the fantastical Puck, is likable and effective,
but oddly unengaging. For all his snickering and darting to and fro,
his Puck never seems quite comfortable in his role as chief prankster
of the fairies. Perhaps he never got used to the tights. So too with
Bradley Cole in his portrayal of Oberon and Theseus. He projects a
workmanlike demeanor and gives a respectful performance, but tends
to disappear in the background even when firmly planted on center
stage. It is the same for Queen Esther as Hippolyta and Titania, whose
performance shines best when her characters are angry.
This may be a direct result of director Jeff Cohen’s odd decision
to update the setting of the story to wartime America. Without changing
a line (the characters are still Athenians, after all) Cohen dresses
his cast in 1940s garb, but does little else to support this choice.
The mood music splayed liberally throughout the production has little
to do with creating a ’40s mood, and the fairies have absolutely no
idea what time zone they’re in. Consequently, the update seems arbitrary
and therefore not wholly successful.
Nonetheless, the production is fun to look at and the
direction is never dull. Cohen has the director’s instinct to keep
things moving. Already running nearly two and a half hours, anything
slower would be a serious blow to anybody’s ability to enjoy the evening.
(Advice to anyone going to see the show; bring a good cushion to sit
Karen Traynor and Sarah K. Lippman are well suited as Hermia and Helena,
sporting a charming energy, and a certain kind of 1940s flair. You
almost expect them to break into the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"
(But alas, no such luck). David Prete and Justin Donham as their male
love interests (Demetrius and Lysander) are steady and pleasant.
Some of the best moments occur when the Mechanicals take over the
stage. David Greenspan is capably supported by an ethnically diverse
group of misfit thespian-wannabes played by Michael Cannis, Jim Hazard,
Carlos Rojas, James Rana, and Adam Hirsch. Of course, no production
of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" would be complete without a
suitable group of fairies. Belinda Hernandez, Ellie Guild, Ashley
Mihok, Kristen Barrett, Elise Everett, Rachel Daniels, Sarah Harwood,
Esther Lerner, Nicole Bugge, and Allison Taaffe all give fine other-worldly
performances as the dancing fairies.
The night I saw the show, there was a terrible technical problem with
the microphones as actors’ voices jumped in and out like distant radio
stations. It was a shame, because although the actors bravely played
on, it did seem to throw them off their game ever so much.
Although the outcome was never really in doubt, when Bottom is restored
to his former appearance, the lovers are properly matched, and Oberon
and Titania are reunited, the audience left with a satisfied air to
brave the traffic. Shakespeare’s elegant comedy has reassured us once
again that the world can be a kind place to lovers, after all. Despite
the occasional snafus, Princeton Rep’s "Dream" is solid and
well worth seeing.
— Jack Florek
Gardens, Mountain Avenue, 609-688-0381. Jeff Cohen directs an updated
version of Shakespeare’s magical summer comedy featuring David Greenspan
and Bradley Cole of television’s "Guiding Light." Performances
are at 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, through July 23. Free, but
$10 donation suggested.
Free tickets are distributed at Fleet Financial Solutions Center,
16 Nassau Street. Tickets are also available at Pettoranello Gardens
on the evening of the performance. Website: www.princetonrep.com.
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