“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Of all the outdoor Shakespeare productions abounding in the area this summer, Connecticut Free Shakespeare offers the most enchanting, intimate, feel-good atmosphere. Not the least of its charm is the Beardsley Park Zoo setting--within the Peacock Pavilion, to be exact. The peacocks themselves play a major role in this production, disrupting the dialogue with their raucous cries and vying with the performers on stage. Beyond that, viewers are so close that they become part of the proceedings. After picnic suppers are finished, picnic baskets repacked, every one enters into the spirit of a midsummer night’s dream.
What is this particular tale? For starters, four Athenian youths are star-crossed lovers. Secondly, a group of unlettered workmen (the Crude Mechanicals) rehearse a play, the occasion being the upcoming nuptials of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his bride Hippolyta. Thirdly, Titania and Oberon, King and Queen of the Fairy World, are at odds over a changeling child, each seeing the adoptee as his own property. Misunderstandings abound throughout the night, within the enchanted forest. But Oberon’s minion Puck finds a magic flower on a distant mountaintop. This ultimately resolves all problems and true love prevails. So much for Shakespeare’s convoluted plot—not to be taken seriously, but to be enjoyed.
Indeed it is an engaging evening, but one diminished by uneven performances. Though Saluda Camp, as Titania, is superb, mixing magical moves with hard-headed feminism, she cannot be expected to carry the weight of the production on her slim, elegant shoulders. Others are less satisfactory. Charles Maceo, as her mate Oberon, has a certain oafish charm, but minus the regal bearing one expects. Though Marissa Lichwick is an appealing Puck, she lacks the skills of an aerialist, an acrobat--or at least a dancer. “I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” she boasts. But, alas, she is decidedly earthbound. Of the Rude Mechanicals, Eric Nyquist is an excellent Peter Finch, but Ian Eaton’s Bottom would have benefited from a broader, more comic, approach.
While the show’s opening act proves to be more tedious than inspired, it picks up in the second half. The four Athenian youths (Abbie Killeen, Erin Scanlon, Mark Friedlander, Tim Shelton) then come into their own, as they engage in rough-housing. It is a physical tour-de-force, as they rip off outer garments, pummel each other, and race about the stage. Director Lieberman was wise to turn this scene into a romp.
This critique turns out to be a minority opinion, considering the unqualified, enthusiastic responses from the audience. The many youngsters (including my eight-year-old granddaughter Ali) were delighted and attentive throughout. As Ali summarized, “It was funny, it was cool, and I loved when the peacocks talked.”
This review also appeared in the Connecticut Post July 25 and also NYtheaterscene.com.