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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the December 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Midwinter Night’s Dream’
Who is to say that Shakespeare’s comical mix of fantasy
and folklore has to remain only a dream of midsummer madness? The
liberties taken by director Joe Discher for the New Jersey Shakespeare
Festival’s production are as inventive as they are seasonally appropriate.
Athens and the mystical nearby woods have been turned into a whirling
swirling winter wonderland where the mortals are as apt as the fairies
to feel the bite of the frost. This, even as they are as mismatched
as ever within the freshness of director Joe Discher’s blizzard-infused
Only minor text changes appear in Discher and Monte’s adaptation:
"Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass" becomes "decking
with frosty pearl the frozen grass," and "I know a bank where
the wild thyme blows," becomes "I know a bank where the winter
wind sighs." Otherwise, Bard purists need not despair.
Countless productions have played around royally with this, one of
Shakespeare’s most charming comedies. While Shakespeare may have envisioned
gossamer glades, others have seen fit to transport the fairy kingdom
to a 1970s disco, even a South American jungle realm where Umbanda
is the cult of choice. To be sure, "Dream" has been afforded
more layers and subtext than even the Bard could have imagined.
Take heart! There is magic in the snowflakes, merriment in the icicles
that drip from frosted faux trees and marvels in the snow banks that
set designer Charles T. Wittreich has provided. Behold the delicate
fairy costumes that look like they have been cut from the sheerest
yards of tinsel. Would that lighting designer Bill Berner might soften
the lighting a little more so that even more illusion is created.
While the fairies are a beguiling lot, they are not particularly prone
to scamper or dance very much (what passes for choreography in the
production happens understandably without credit). It remains for
Puck (Greg Jackson), Oberon’s jester and lieutenant, to enter and
exit sliding over the slippery trails. With his silvered hair on point
matching his silvered top and tights, this is an impish though a decidedly
This is a "Dream" where Shakespeare’s wonderfully befuddled
"artisans" take the lead in every way and actually make us
believe they have "never labored in their minds." There is
considerable fun in watching the illiterate workmen, bundled up in
well-worn winter jackets and hats straight from the local thrift shop
rehearse their "lamentable" play, "Pyramus and Thisby,"
for the royal reception.
As nominally coached by Peter Quince (John Fitzgibbon);
Bottom get his artfully crafted mugging courtesy of James Michael
Reilly, while Snug, played amusingly by James Earley, revels in his
insecurity, even as he roars like a lion. Funniest of all is Jay Leibowitz,
as a sniffling tinker with a bad cold, an inconvenience that brings
added hilarity when he plays the role of "Wall."
Making her NJSF debut in the roles of Titania and Hippolyta is the
very beautiful Sabrina Le Beauf. Well known as she may be for playing
the oldest daughter on television’s "The Cosby Show," Le Beauf,
hasn’t, as yet, found the rhythm and cadence of the Bard’s Elizabethan
English. The same is true of Mark Elliot Wilson, as the Duke of Theseus.
"Dream" can be a delight when performed with an awareness
of its bubbly poetry. For more character conviction we look to Jared
Zeus, as Lysander, Geoff Wilson, as Demetrius, Erin Lynlee Partin,
as Hermia, Mandy Olsen, as Helena, and the rest of the royal court,
most of whom handle Shakespeare’s deliberately convoluted speech patterns
At their best, the lovers and those at court are happily not guided
by character analysis but rather by the incidents and coincidences
that keep them either bedazzled or distracted. Thanks to them and
the imagination that director Discher has imparted on the play, a
warming glow hovered over this frosty glade.
— Simon Saltzman
on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, 973-408-5600.
$22 to $41. To December 29.
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