William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream made its debut at the Shakespeare Theatre under the direction of Joe Calarco. (Mr. Calarco recently directed the acclaimed off-Broadway production of Shakespeare's R&J.) This production has many wonderfully funny moments and the decision to rework the story so that the fairy world emerges as Hermia's dream on the eve of her unwanted wedding to Demetrius works well, for the most part. However, some of the adjustments made to the text left me a little confused. The performance of the play-within-the-play has been moved from the end of the second act to a rehearsal in the middle of the first act. I expected to see the players in the second act, and it seemed a little incomplete to have the rehearsal of the play end the storyline for the acting troupe. Adjustments to the book aside, I found that many of the choices worked very well.
The play-within-the-play provided some of the best comic moments of the evening. Floyd King as Bottom had exquisite comedic timing and imbued his character with a perfect combination of earnest effort and awkwardness. The rest of the rag-tag troupe of actors assembled by David Sabin's Peter Quince also demonstrated excellent comic timing as they rehearsed the "tragic" tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Andrew Long as Oberon, the imperious King of the Fairies, and Valerie Leonard as Titania, [both pictured right] the regal, yet fiery, Queen of the Fairies had excellent chemistry together and expressed the passions of their characters (love, jealousy, anger) beautifully. Blair Singer as Puck, Oberon's servant who delights in causing trouble, presented the mischievous nature of his character while following the orders of his master.
The four young lovers were also excellent. Anna Cody (Helena), Gregory Wooddell (Lysander), Tricia Paoluccio (Hermia), and Erik Sorensen (Demetrius) threw themselves wholeheartedly into their entangled love story. The comedy of errors that arose when both men, the straight-laced Demetrius and the hunky Lysander, formerly in love with Hermia, are induced to fall in love with Hermia's best friend Helena through the use of a magic flower was quite funny. The scenes with the men following Helena around like puppies while she, doubtful of the veracity of their protestations of love and completely unprepared to be the object of such affections, were hilarious. Similarly, some very amusing scenes occurred with both the portrayal of Hermia's utter shock at learning that the affections of Lysander and Demetrius have suddenly shifted to her best friend and the ensuing battle with Helena over the men.
Michael Fagin's design for the woods provided a creative backdrop for the bulk of the play. The cockeyed, gilded chandelier, partially buried in the sand was the centerpiece and was surrounded by tilted ladders with chairs on which different people perched at different times throughout the show. Amazingly, there were two actual pools of water and accompanying sand that comprised part of the woods as well. The set provided a bright atmosphere that complemented the airy nature of the story.
Certain aspects of the performance, however, seemed designed to titillate rather than further the story. For example, the opening scene of the second act was an erotic dance by scantily clad (and in one instance, nude) inhabitants of the woods. The costumes and suggestive nature of the scene were not entirely out of place given the innuendo in and subject matter of the rest of the story, but the number, which was visually striking, seemed to be placed in the show in order to provide beautiful people for the audience to admire and to shock the audience with its forwardness. Basically, the scene was interesting and fun to watch, but not necessary for the story. This perception aside, I found the show very entertaining and would highly recommend seeing it.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. Director/Adaptor: Joe Calarco. With Floyd King, Tricia Paoluccio, Anna Cody, Erik Sorensen, Andrew Long, Valerie Leonard, Blair Singer, Gregory Wooddell, David Sabin, Cameron Folmar, Ralph Cosham, Eric Hoffmann, Emery Battis, and Erin Cottrell. Set Designer: Michael Fagin. Costume Designer: Helen Q. Huang. Lighting Designer: Daniel MacLean Wagner. Composer: Jon Magnussen. Choreographer: Karma Camp. Sound Designer: Brian D. Keating. Vocal Consultant: Ralph Zito. Assistant Director: PJ Paparelli. Stage Manager: M. Pat. Hodge. Casting Directors: Stuart Howard and Amy Schecter.
Through January 2, 2000 at The Shakespeare Theatre. Call the Box Office at (202) 547-1122 or toll-free at 1(877) 487-8849 or visit www.shakespearedc.org
Photo: Carol Rosegg