A Delightful "Midsummer"
By Geary Danihy
I didn’t want to leave the theater.
This review should probably end with its first sentence, but one is called upon to say more, so I shall. The subject is Midsummer, a marvelous two-hander that recently opened at Theaterworks up in Hartford, co-written by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre and directed with flair and humor by Tracy Brigden. Billed as “a play with songs,” this magical, quirky exploration of a mismatched couple’s weekend in Edinburgh offers just about everything a playgoer could ask for: humor, a bit of pathos, engaging interaction between its two stars…and a happy ending.
Those who were lucky enough to attend the recent production of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, part of this year’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, will be familiar with Greig’s work. He has a vivid imagination and relies on the actors who will portray his characters to not only set the scene but create entire worlds. Prudencia was a revelation, as is Midsummer. His writing is witty, urbane, yet tinged with romanticism.
So, what is Midsummer about? Well, Helena (Rebecca Hart), a lawyer, and Bob (M. Scott McLean) – that’s “Medium Bob,” for in the criminal netherworld he inhabits he has no prepossessing features – meet quasi-cute in a wine bar. He’s waiting to meet a contact; she’s waiting to meet a lover. Helena is jilted and looks across the room to see Bob, who’s reading Dostoevsky’s “Dead Souls” to make him feel better. She makes an overture. He responds. And so begins a weekend that will be filled with wonderful “adventures” that include bondage, a chase scene, an angst-filled first tryst, botched commitments, a lot of self-analysis and great swaths of glee for the audience as these two superb actors create multiple characters and work the “When Harry Met Sally” formula to perfection.
Midsummer is essentially meta-theater, for from the start there are comments and asides that draw attention to the play as play. Lines are delivered and then interpreted to reveal what is really being said (which allows for the smile-inducing last line of the play). The play wouldn’t work if there wasn’t chemistry between Hart and McLean, but that’s not a problem. These two actors engage each other from the moment they walk onto the stage and their characters’ week-end romance is totally believable.
Greig gives each of the actors several monologues that allow them to show their stuff, the most memorable one being Bob’s intensive discussion with...well, not his conscience. It’s a play on the idea of what, some say, men think with, and it’s hilarious.
Brigden, who directed the play previously at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, shows a deft directorial hand in multiple scenes that effortlessly flow into each other, and she, along with the two actors, shows a sensitive awareness of the importance of nuance and body language. This is enhanced by Andrew Ostrowski’s subtle yet very effective lighting and the eclectic set by Narelle Sissons that resembles the back of a barn where unwanted items have been stored, items that Hart and McLean pull out to create characters that demand the audience involve itself in theater of the mind. A tacky tiara becomes the prop that allows Helena to create the confusion of missing her sister’s wedding, and a single leather glove serves to manifest a criminal kingpin.
Midsummer is a delight from start to finish, a wonderful exercise in creative theater that demands a lot from its audience but, if the demands are met, the satisfaction is palpable. If you love theater, and if you enjoy watching two actors ply their craft with style, flair and depth, then you owe it to yourself to see Midsummer. The evening will stay with you long after the lights go down.
Midsummer runs through August 21. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org