Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
A Midsummer Night's Dream
What makes this version stand out? Well, there's the sight of young people communicating not only in iambic pentameter but in tweets (which the audience follows on video screens). There are witty costumes (in many different styles) by Lauren Perigard, plus video projection, lighting and sound design that create a setting so effectively that you barely notice the near-complete lack of scenery. But what's most notable is how this Midsummer Night's Dream fits in with Mauckingbird's mission to produce gay-themed theater. Some of the major characters have had their genders switched and, for this comedy of romantic confusion, it all makes a lovingly twisted sort of sense.
Egeus opposes his daughter Hermia's romance with Lysander, and wants her to marry Demetrius instead. But Lysander is played by a woman, which gives the story new relevance. So does having Demetrius' pursuer, Helena, be played by a man. When magic potions and mistaken identities get involved, it all becomes a heady stew. The scene in which the four lovers urgently thrash it all out is involving and hilarious. There's also great chemistry between the quartet, played by Erin Mulgrew (Hermia), Emily Letts (Lysander), Sean Gibson (Demetrius) and Patrick Joyce (Helena).
Directors Peter Reynolds and Lynne Innerst don't stop there, though. They also give us the king and queen of the fairies, who are both played by men, albeit men who know they have been around each other too long. And a lot of the laughs come from Danielle Pinnock, who throws herself into the (male) role of the actor Nick Bottom with energy to spare. When she volunteers to play nearly all of the roles in the Rude Mechanicals' play, you almost believe she could do it. This Bottom goes over the topbut in a good way.
What's missing? Well, the show is cut down to ninety minutes (with no intermission), and some of the cuts harm the storytelling. For instance, in Shakespeare's script, the Rude Mechanicals are performing a play to celebrate the Duke's weddingbut in this version, all references to the Duke's wedding have been cut. So why exactly are they performing? In addition, some of the characterizations (notably Helena and the fairy queen Titania) are too dependent on hoary gay clichés for cheap laughs.
But these are minor complaints about a production that is, in its own way, respectful of Shakespeare. Young and old alike will find a lot to love, and they may have almost as much fun as the actors.
A Midsummer Night's Dream runs through September 12, 2010 and is presented by Mauckingbird Theatre Company at Randall Theatre at Temple University, 2020 North 13th Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $15 to $20 and may be purchased by calling the Mauckingbird box office at 215-923-8909, online at www.MauckingbirdTheatreCo.org or in person at the Randall Theatre box office.
A Midsummer Night's Dream