Midsummer at TheaterWorks
By Brooks Appelbaum
If you fancy a trip to Edinburgh, “Midsummer,” playing through August 21 at TheaterWorks, will give you a lovely sense of having visited that misty and magical town. This “play with music,” by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre, and expertly directed by Tracy Brigden, isn’t perfect in its structure or story, but the performers (Rebecca Hart and M. Scott McLean) are terrifically charming and skillful, and several of the humorous set pieces are delightfully imaginative.
The plot is a classic, if very quirky, romantic comedy. Helena (Hart), describes herself as a buttoned-up divorce lawyer, while Bob (McLean) is a petty criminal who does jobs for the sort of upper-level criminal types who sock him, threaten him, and are ready to kill him if he messes up -- which is fairly often. His heart doesn’t seem to be dedicated to his life’s work.
We meet both characters as they are sitting in the same wine bar, each waiting for people who don’t show up. Helena is stood up by her lover, while Bob’s contact in a shady deal doesn’t come through. Because Helena’s feelings are wounded, she invites Bob to her place for a night of wild, abandoned, no-strings-attached sex. He agrees, and the sex scene that follows is one of the evening’s funniest and most original. Naturally, Helena asks Bob to leave in the morning, and they agree that they won’t see each other again. Naturally, because this is a romantic comedy, they keep running into each other in wildly escalating circumstances, and naturally they (and we) learn more about each other’s secrets as the play goes on.
There is much here to enjoy. As mentioned, the set pieces along the way are remarkably imaginative and enjoyable, and the performances are beautifully spot on, with palpable chemistry between Helena and Bob. Both Hart and McLean play multiple minor characters as needed, and both are gifted singers and musicians. However, the folk-influenced songs, though sweet, never add much energy to the proceedings. Rather than bursting into song because words are no longer enough, as in a traditional musical, Helena and Bob murmur into song when it seems that the action needs variance.
Too, because each character has only one major secret, those two secrets have to be revealed late in the production. Thus, we don’t come to know either Helena or Bob well enough, soon enough, to care quite enough about whether or not they join together in the end. Bob seems far too nice, intelligent, and thoughtful a guy (he reads Dostoyevsky and philosophizes about his mid-life crisis in two of the evening’s funniest scenes) to really be the low-life we’re told he is. And Helena, dressed like a folkie woman-child (the costumes are by Narelle Sissons, who also designed the fairy-tale set) doesn’t convince as a lawyer who is, on this life-changing weekend, acting wildly out of her everyday character.
Director Brigden does beautiful work with her gifted cast and with the script she’s been given. Additionally, the lighting design by Andrew Ostrowski and the sound, by Elizabeth Atkinson, add nice mystical touches. So long as you don’t expect too much depth or too many plot developments, “Midsummer” will delight you as a sweet, often comical, and unique evening of theater.