Merry Wanderers of the Night

By David A. Rosenberg

Forget Neil Simon. Connecticut Free Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Beardsley Zoo is as funny as any comedy from that esteemed playwright. It’s a double-barreled romp.

Make that triple-barreled since the play involves three different realms. First the noble Athenians, headed by Theseus, Duke of Athens, engaged to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. A less felicitous marriage is proposed by a prominent citizen, Egeus, who insists that his daughter Hermia marry Demetrious or else be either put to death or sent to a convent. Hermia, who loves Lysander, flees to the woods with him, pursued by friend Helena, accompanied by Demetrious, for whom Helena has set her cap.

In the woods, they’re beset by well-meaning fairies, headed by Oberon and Titania with relationship troubles of their own. Meanwhile, wishing to entertain at the Theseus / Hippolyta wedding, the third realm, a group of Rude Mechanicals, also enters the wood to rehearse their twisted version of Pyramus and Thisbe.

All realms come together after merry mix-ups. At its heart, “Midsummer” is about possessiveness, especially in the subplot about the conflict between the fairy king and queen over a changeling child. It’s a game of who belongs to whom, played out by warring couples and aided by transformations devised by the devilish Puck to whom mortals are fools.
Starting slowly, the evening builds to the knock-down battle that pits Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrious against each other. Tearing off their rivals’ clothes, dragging and carrying first one then another about, the scene reaches a madcap level. It’s followed by the Rude Mechanicals’ delightfully bungled rendering of Pyramus and Thisbe.

The acting is uneven, although praise be to the lovers: Abbie Killeen as Helena, Erin Scanlon as Hermia, Mark Friedlander as Lysander and Tim Shelton as Demetrius. Saluda Camp is a charming Titania, but Charles Maceo is an unnecessarily loutish Oberon. As Peter Quince, Eric Nyquist rules his scenes with a combination of benevolence and teeth-clenching patience. (The indispensable Nyquist also composed the sprightly music.) In the critical role of Bottom, Ian Eaton has amusing moments but misses the character’s subtextual sensitivity and need as covers for his outward bluster and egotism.

Ellen Lieberman’s joyous direction runs from assured to inspired. She gets great help from the zoo’s resident peacocks, one of whom perched on the proscenium roof, squawking happily away throughout the evening. He especially enjoyed the line about “the clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits” and seemed to be having as much fun as the audience of children and adults, all “merry wanderers of the night.”

This review appeared in The Hour, Norwalk, July 23, 2009

 

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