"Midsummer Night’s Dream"
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
Ever since we saw “Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed at Regent’s Park in London, we have felt that the proper venue for this Shakespearean comedy is the outdoors. One needs the help of Mother Nature—a natural setting wherein actors cavort among the shrubs and lose their way in the woods.
Hence any indoor production of MND is something of a letdown. So it is with the current offering at Long Wharf Theatre. One is tempted to say, “Leave Shakespeare to the outdoor summer companies which focus exclusively on Shakespeare, and stick with contemporary theatre.” Nevertheless, there is something to be said for this production, despite the limitations of an indoor venue, thanks to a set design both abstract and magical (courtesy of designer G. W. Mercier).
But how successful is this MND, in general? Sporadically, the show, under director Kim Rubinstein, works well. Rubinstein has attempted a rather unconventional approach, which emphasizes comedy rather than magic. The result is that some scenes are first-rate. Particularly notable is the scene in which the Rude Mechanicals attempt their rehearsal of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” There’s plenty of physical shtick, with props landing on players and mini-sets collapsing. Equally good is a scene involving the four young Athenians, in which every one is in love with the wrong person. It is a scene which intensifies steadily, with actors moving from plaintive misunderstanding to violent attack.
But, more often than not, with uneven performances, this MND falters. Puck, as portrayed by Brad Love, comes off as efficient, business-like, and self-assured, but in no way ethereal. And while Tom Nelis (as Oberon and Theseus) delivers his lines beautifully, he is diminished by the fright wig he is forced to wear as Oberon. Despite Nelis’ dignified portrayal, he cannot help but be seen as a comic figure. And Christina Rouner (Titania and Hippolita) has her best moments in the opening scene as Hippolita. She clearly delivers a strong feminist statement aimed through a devastating look at her sexist husband. But, later, as Titania, she, too, is earth-bound. And even the excellent actor Bill Raymond (who gave such an award-winning performance in “Moon for the Misbegotten”) is light-weight as Bottom. Literally light-weight. He plays the role with such impish charm that any fairy queen should be happy to bed him down. That is not Shakespeare’s intent. Bedding an ass is meant to be a sad comedown for Titania.
But there are some good performances. Cheyenne Casebier is a goofy, ungainly Helena, eliciting all the sympathy she is meant to do. And she is well supported by Jason Denuszek (who knows what to do with Shakespearean lines), as well as Mia Barron and Markus Potter, who complete the foursome. And finally, one must praise Stephen Buescher’s creative choreography, particularly those involving the two fairy attendants (Diane Mair and Jenny Weaver).
Though one can easily emphasize the positives, and be carried along by the audience enthusiasm on opening night, this production, over-all, is not a top-notch “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” On a scale of one to ten, it lands somewhere in the middle.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 21, 2005