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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

vision.

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

weathered Puck.

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

with dexterity.

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

A Midwinter Night’s Dream, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival,

on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, 973-408-5600.

$22 to $41. To December 29.


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