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This article by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 28, 2000. All rights reserved.
Shakespeare in the . . . Community Park North
Comedy, magical or tempestuous, comes to Princeton
this summer as Princeton Rep, a professional theater company, presents
not one but two Shakespeare plays over eight weekends (that’s 24 performances
barring storms), all free, as the highlights of its Shakespeare festival.
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" plays from June 30 to July 23,
followed in August by "The Taming of the Shrew," that classic
man-woman contest popularized by the well-known musical, "Kiss
Not only has Princeton Rep — Victoria Liberatori is artistic director,
and Anne Reiss, executive producer — extended its Shakespeare
presentations in Princeton from a single weekend, but it has moved.
For five years, Princeton Rep performed Shakespeare in Palmer Square.
This year the company is presenting its main productions in Community
Park North. Like the New York original, it’s "Shakespeare in the
How did this happen? Last year at Princeton Rep’s production of "Twelfth
Night" there weren’t enough seats for the crowd. When I attended
on Saturday night, some 200 people stood for the entire performance.
The previous night, when rain forced performance indoors to Nassau
Presbyterian Church, limited seating caused many to be turned away,
including Borough Mayor Marvin Reed. Luckily, it turns out, for us.
"Mayor Reed wanted to meet with us after that and talk about how
we could expand the festival," explains Reiss in a telephone interview
from the Rep’s Princeton office. Expanding the festival had long been
a company goal.
As a result, Liberatori and Reiss met with Mayor Reed, Phyllis Marchand,
mayor of Princeton Township, and Jack Roberts of Princeton Recreation
Department. With the agreement of the Pettoranello Foundation, the
company was offered a summer home at the ampitheater in Pettoranello
Gardens in Community Park North. Yet the company is maintaining its
Palmer Square connection, where, with the help of David Newton of
Palmer Square Management, the summer Shakespeare festival has grown
steadily. Princeton Rep will perform there twice this year, August
26 and 27.
Jeff Cohen, artistic director of the Worth Street Theater
Company in New York’s Tribeca district, is directing the production
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream." Cohen, who’s known for his contemporary
adaptations of classical plays, is "astonished by the play. It
blew me away," he says in a telephone interview from his home
in New York.
"Shakespeare has created three different comedies, three different
worlds. Oberon and Titania speak in elevated language. The comedy
of the four lovers is written in sublime, youthful, and very exhuberant
rhyming couplets. And then you’ve got the comedy of the mechanicals,
which is full of about as much elevated humor as the Three Stooges.
The three comedies brilliantly exist alone and also intertwine into
a unified whole."
The framing story includes Theseus, the duke, and his betrothed, Hippolyta,
queen of the Amazons, whom he’ll marry in three days. The lovers are
Lysander and his beloved Hermia, and Demetrius, who also loves Hermia,
but she doesn’t love him. Demetrius is doggedly pursued by Helena,
who loves him, but whom he hates. Hermia and Helena are friends and
were schoolmates. In the initial complication, Hermia’s father, Egeus,
has determined that she will marry Demetrius, and it is his right
under law to dispose of her how he will: she must marry Demetrius
or die. So Hermia and Lysander flee to a wood outside the city.
In the second group are workmen from the city — Quince, Bottom,
Flute, Snout — also known as the Mechanicals. They’re in the wood
rehearsing the masque of Pyramus and Thisbe which they plan to present
at Theseus’ wedding.
Fairies make up the third group. Oberon and Titania are king and queen
of the fairies, Robin Goodfellow (better known as Puck) is their main
servant. Oberon and Titania have come to the nuptials of Theseus and
Hippolyta to wish them joy. But they are estranged (and the world
is awry) because Oberon wants for his page a changling Indian boy
whom Titania refuses to give up.
The bulk of the play takes place in the wood, a place of mystery and
magic. Helena, told of Hermia and Lysander’s plans, betrays their
flight to Demetrius, hoping to win his love. Demetrius goes to the
wood, seeking Hermia, while Helena pursues him. But it is the aggrieved
Oberon, the fairy king, who sets the main plot spinning by instructing
Puck to find the magic potion from a flower and sprinkle its juice
on the lids of a sleeping youth in city garb. The youth will love
the first creature he sees on awakening. Oberon means for Puck to
put this fairy juice on Demetrius’ eyelids to make him love Helena,
but Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius. Awakening, Lysander first
sees and now loves Helena and hates his former beloved, Hermia.
But it is not just benign mischief that spurs Oberon’s instruction
to Puck. He wants revenge on Titania for the keeping the boy and has
Puck sprinkle the same magical juice on her sleeping eyes. Puck then
puts an ass’s head on Bottom. Titiana, awakening and first seeing
the ass-headed Bottom, loves him. At last Oberon, obtaining the boy,
takes pity on Titania’s doting on an ass and has Puck reverse the
To three concurrent plots — Hermia disbelieving and bereft after
the magically changed Lysander, Helena newly loved by Lysander and
Demetrius, Helena thinking she’s being mocked by Hermia, Lysander
and Demetrius about to fight over Helena — add Oberon’s spell
put on Titania.
Finally, Egeus is quickly pacified, the human lovers, now three loving
couples, marry, then relax to watch the masque put on by the earnest
but bumbling workmen.
"It’s an exciting but very daunting play," says Cohen. "The
first thing I had to do was come up with a time and a place to set
it in. You can be true to the Elizabethan, which sets the play in
ancient Athens, but I try to find an American equivalent that can
make the play breathe. We chose post World War II, late ’40s."
In a small town, he stresses, where everybody is so excited about
Theseus’ wedding, there’s a sense of almost `Leave it to Beaver’ innocence
and, perhaps, sexual repression.
Thus Theseus is a local boy who has gone off to war and become a war
hero. He first apppears in a wheelchair, bitter that he’s been wounded,
with all the implications for his virility, says Cohen. "In the
dream he is Oberon, this incredibly athletic, very vital king of the
fairy world." At the end Theseus’ wounds prove to be not permanent
and, says Cohen, "Theseus is less bitter, a more open person."
"Why Hermia’s father prefers Demetrius over Lysander is never
explained, since the two seem equal," Cohen elaborates, "yet
there’s this sense of this thing set in motion amongst these innocent,
virginal lovers. Then you have a dream. Are you to take that world
literally or take it as a dream-like manifestation of the reality
of the play? I didn’t want to have the fairy world like a `Star Trek’
episode of aliens coming from outer space and sort of manipulating
human beings. For me, it was much more interesting to create a dream
that had Freudian ramifications where a lot of the sexual repressions
in life sort of fly into a fanciful, very comic, or sometimes very
dark, manifestations of a dream."
"The Elizabethans saw a very thin line between dreaming and waking,"
Cohen continues. "Things concerned them that we, with our advanced
science, seem to poo-poo, like astrology and numerology and different
kinds of celestial things. They were very interested in the idea of
`Are you and I now awake?’or `Are you and I now sleeping?’ `When we
dream, is that the real existence?’ or `When we’re awake, is that
the real existence?’ So I think all of that led me to this place where
the dream is a very potent and powerful image that drives the play
"The dream manifests itself in several ways through the production,"
Cohen elaborates, "and it involves a lot of double casting."
Actors playing Theseus, Hippolyta, and Philostrate play fairies in
Bradley Cole acts the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon,
the duke of the city and the king of the fairies. Cole was on stage
in Paris and currently plays Prince Richard in the CBS daytime series,
"The Guiding Light," for which he has received several industry
Queen Esther plays Hippolyta and Titania. She just performed a one-woman
show at the Joseph Papp Public Theater’s cabaret room, and has been
on national tours of "Sophisticated Ladies" and "Rent."
Liam O’Brien plays Puck, Oberon’s servant and the instrument of the
dream’s revels, as well as Philostrate, Theseus’ aide and master of
Playing Bottom, the amateur thespian who acquires an ass’s head, is
David Greenspan, whose credits include the Obie-Award and Drama Desk
nomination for his performance in the Off-Broadway revival of "The
Boys in the Band."
While most of the cast comes from New York, Princeton resident Karen
Traynor plays Hermia.
Princeton also provides the bevy of fairies. Peaseblossom, Moth, Cobweb,
and Mustardseed and other fairies are played by eight girls, ages
10 to 14, from the Princeton Ballet School. Russian born choreographer
Alexander Tressor directs the young dancers. Tressor has danced on
Broadway in three shows and has written his own ballet which received
rave reviews from the New York Times and the Village Voice.
The ampitheater seats about 300, and 150 more can sit on the grassy
incline (bring your own blanket). At the performances picnic dinners
will be for sale as will be bottled water and iced tea, and maybe
ice cream from Thomas Sweet. (And, yes, there will be portable toilets.)
In case of torrential rain, the performance will be called an hour
before the show and ticketholders can go to Fleet Bank to obtain tickets
for another performance.
You may wonder whose "Midsummer-Night’s Dream" is this anyway?
Titania’s? Lysander’s? Demetrius’? Helena’s? Hermia’s? Yours? As Puck,
closing the play in Shakespeare’s magical language, tells his audience:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumb’red here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream…
— Joan Crespi
Gardens, Mountain Avenue & Route 206, 609-688-0381. Performances are
Fridays through Sundays, through July 23. Free, but $10 donation encouraged.
Friday, June 30, 7 p.m.
7 p.m., with performances Fridays to Sundays, through August 27.
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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.