New Theatre flips the repertory coin, and comes out on top again with their rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare's tale of fantasy, love, and comical whimsy is interpreted in an Arabian Nights setting filled with sexual and musical undertones. The 13-member cast may be confined within the small 94-seat playhouse, but they do well with the surroundings, creating a slimmed down chamber version.
The scenery may have changed, but the song remains the same: Aegeus brings his dilemma to Theseus, explaining that while his daughter, Hermia, is betrothed to Demetrius, she is also being wooed by Lysander. Lysander is undaunted in his pursuit of Hermia, so Aegeus wants his own daughter “disposed of.”
Theseus, being the wise mediator, gives Hermia some time to think over her situation. She stands steadfast in her devotion to Lysander, not caring about her impending fate. They would like to share their happiness with their mutual friend Helena, but she is so deep into her pining for Demetrius that she turns a deaf ear to the couple. Demetrius is aware of Helena's affection for him, but he will never stray from the path to Hermia's heart.
In another scene, a group of rustics are readily rehearsing a play that will be presented to Theseus and his guests. Lead actor Nick Bottom is trying the patience of director Peter Quince while the other rustics look on, taking their roles in stride.
The last, but not least, group we come upon are the magical fairies of the forest: Oberon is at odds with his queen, Titania, for not relinquishing custody of a changeling that he wants to keep in his employ. When Oberon fails in his latest attempt, he enlists his sideman Puck to get a flower. Oberon will squeeze the juice out of this flower onto Titania while she sleeps; when she wakes up, she will fall in love with the first creature she sees.
Puck is also ordered to spread a little flower power onto the first lady in love with a disdainful youth. When Lysander and Hermia enter the forest, they fall asleep. Puck mistakes Lysander for the youth Oberon was speaking of and sprinkles the juice from the flower onto him. When Helena comes in after being rejected again by Demetrius, Lysander wakes up and immediately sets his sights on Helena while Hermia is still zonked out.
Puck also wreaks havoc on the rustics' play rehearsal by making an ass out of Nick Bottom - literally! Puck drops a donkey's head on Bottom's own, scaring away the other players. As if on cue, Titania awakens, falling in love with the donkey on Bottom's head. When Oberon checks on his sidekick, he is pleased to see his scheme against Titania working, but is also upset that Puck mistook the man on which to spread the flower juice. Oberon and Puck then take steps to right their transgressions, but not after a comedy of errors (pardon the pun) ensues.
Ricky J. Martinez plays a much more pivotal role here as Oberon (than as Fool in King Lear). He also plays Theseus, but he gives himself more work to do as the fairy king, bringing panache to Oberon, his movements subtle but fluid. Annemaria Rajala is all biceps and abs, giving Titania the perfect body and voice to go on. Her movements are also fluid, complementing Martinez and his movement coaching. Rajala and Martinez's chemistry is perfect, letting us know that, even though they have their arguments, the fairies still have deep affection for each other. Craig Kaul is a delightful Puck, mischievously chewing scenery without chewing the other actors in the process.
Tara Vodihn is radiant as a smitten Helena. Paying homage to Dr. Seuss with her “Sam-I-Am” hairdo on her entrance, Vodihn sparkles, giving Helena a voice for all oppressed single young women. Odell Rivas and Ursula Freundlich also exude chemistry as lovers Lysander and Hermia, while Euriamis Losada rings true in his portrayal of Demetrius.
The rustics work well together. Robert Strain breathes confidence into his role as Nick Bottom, an actor who wants to perform everything. Strain's comedic timing is near flawless as he changes from human to animal and back to human again without missing a beat. Rounding out the troupe: Stephen Neal as the beleaguered director, Peter Quince; Carlos Orizondo's droll turn as Tom Snout; Rafael Cubela as a reluctant Francis Flute; Matthew Summersgill as confused slacker Robin Starveling; and James Randolph as a smiling Tim Snug (who ironically plays the lion in Pryamus and Thisbe, the play which is being presented to Theseus).
To make the transition from King Lear to Midsummer, Jesse Dreikosen designs clear ivory drapes to mask the sparse white wall, giving the effect that this play is indeed a dream. Travis Neff's lighting needs work in the dark places; actors are hardly seen in different corners of the stage. Kimberly Daniel's musical direction of Indian and Arabic tunes set the right mood for this gathering.
Credit also goes to John Manzelli for staging the fight scene between the lovers. Even though it resembles a scene from “The Jerry Springer Show” (with Lysander and Demetrius discovering all types of angles to keep Hermia away from Helena, for stealing Hermia's suitors), it is still entertaining. Estela Vrancovich's costumes are attractive, defining each group but keeping in step with the Middle Eastern motif.
Rafael de Acha is still the master conductor. As director, he gives the ensemble room to play and explore the characters, while staying true to Shakespeare's language. A couple of flaws always abound when too much rope is given: Oberon and Titania's fairy chants are unnecessary if without an entourage on foot, while Neal's B-boy stance introducing Pyramis and Thisbe is beyond pointless. Minor blemishes aside, New Theatre is improving in their presentation of Shakespeare comedies, therefore giving us a satisfactory showing of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Midsummer will be performed in rep with King Lear through August 22nd at 4120 Laguna Street, Coral Gables. For more information, please call the box office at (305) 443-5909 or visit www.New-theatre.org.
NEW THEATRE - A Midsummer Night's Dream (in repertory with King Lear)
Cast: Rafael Cubela (Francis Flute/Thisbe), Ursula Freundlich (Hermia)*, Craig Kaul (Puck), Euramis Losada (Demetrius), Ricky J. Martinez (Theseus/Oberon), Stephen A. Neal (Aegeus/Peter Quince), Carlos Orizondo (Tom Snout/Wall)*, Annemaria Rajala (Titania), James S. Randolph, Jr. (Tim Snug/Lion)*, Odell Rivas (Lysander), Matthew Summersgill (Robin Starveling/Man in the Moon), Robert Strain (Nick Bottom/Pyramus), and Tara Vodihn (Helena)*
Production Stage Manager - Betsy Paull-Rick
Musical Direction: Kimberly Daniel
Set Design - Jesse Dreikosen
Directed by Rafael de Acha
*-denotes Actors' Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson