A Celebration of the Solstice

By Irene Backalenick

            Like Shakespeare’s Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare on the Sound has taken on new form. As Bottom puts it when he is bewitched, “I am translated.” The company, too, is “translated,” under the new leadership of Artistic Director Joanna Settle. A new stage, new vision and new identity prevail for the outdoor Shakespeare company—and for its production “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream.”
            In fact, Settle’s stage is a non-stage---simply a long, serpentine runway which winds downhill through the audience. The old recognizable traditional stage has disappeared. The narrow runway where actors play out the story, each scene flowing into the next, hovers a few feet above the grass.
            Does it work? Is it magical? In many ways, yes. For instance, Stew’s original music enhances the tale. And the drama moves right into the audience, involving every one. In this Pinkney Park setting, it is sometimes difficult to separate viewers from players, as children run about and actors hop on and off the runway. This makes for a new intimacy on the sprawling grounds.
            On the other hand, the runway is a distraction, and one tends to worry that players will tumble overboard as they race on and off stage (they never do). And one misses the river view, so much a part of past performances. Now, as it happens, much of the audience faces away from Rowayton’s Five Mile River.
            Yet, Settle has chosen wisely in offering “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at this time of year. How appropriate to salute the summer solstice on its own date! What better way to salute this ancient pagan rite.
           The story celebrates the forthcoming nuptials of Theseus of Athens and his Hippolyta. It also involves four young Athenian lovers, a group of amateur players, and creatures of the fairy world. They all interact during one enchanted midsummer night. Runaway lovers, misguided rustics, and battling royals cavort through the enchanted forest. By morning, however, all is sorted out, confusions are resolved, and rightful couples are united. Order replaces chaos, and acceptable love prevails. The night’s antics have become half-remembered dreams.
            The weakest aspects of this production are the performances themselves. Though several cast members give admirable performances—Ty Jones as a delicious Bottom, and Doan Li as a regal Titania—others are less satisfactory. While Mickey Solis is a sexy, virile Oberon, he crawls about the stage—half-beast, half-king. Why has Settle made the choice to bestialize Oberon and his followers? And why has she made Puck (played ably but not excitingly by Jesse J. Perez) a street kid, rather than a wild sprite? Moreover, we cannot help but compare Bottom’s rustic cohorts and the Athenian youths with others we have seen in past performances—to their detriment. Neither group really mines the roles’ potentials, never reaching the comic heights promised in the text.
            Yet this new direction for Shakespeare on the Sound is an intriguing experiment, well worth experiencing. And for audiences who miss the Rowayton run, there is always Greenwich.

This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and nytheaterscene.com.
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