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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’

E-mail: JackFlorek@princetoninfo.com

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

completely current.

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

on.)

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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Princeton Rep, Pettoranello

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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