Audience and Actors United
By David A. Rosenberg
The race is on at once. Before any words are spoken, street-wise Puck struts the length of Shakespeare on the Sound’s 75–foot runway in Pinkney Park, inviting spectators into an up-close, boisterous, cheerful but uneven production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Under the direction of Joanna Settle, also the organization’s new artistic director, the comedy’s romance and magic play second fiddle to franticness, but actor-audience proximity adds to the evening’s enjoyment.
This is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, a bitter yet gentle, rambunctious yet idyllic tale that blends noble Athenians with rustics and fairies. The one character who touches all realms is Bottom, that divine clown who is one of the Bard’s greatest creations. At the park, Ty Jones makes the character into a hip dude and quite steals the production.
When, at the end, in one of director Settle’s most effective inspirations, he and the woman with whom he had a brief moment of ecstasy, slowly confront one another, an enchanting, figurative curtain suddenly, briefly parts. A man held in low esteem by others, but not by himself, has become an unexpected object of desire, endorsing Puck’s “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind / And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.” Of course Puck (stolidly enacted by Jesse L. Perez) also says, “What fools these mortals be.”
That earlier moment of ecstasy occurs in the woods after Bottom has been transformed into a donkey by Oberon, the fairy king (a rough Mickey Solis), to torment Titania, the fairy queen (a luminous Doan Ly). Shakespeare’s conceit involves a magical flower which, when sprinkled on someone’s eyes, will cause that person to look lovingly at whoever next comes into sight.
Ostensibly, it’s used for the two pairs of mismatched lovers, Demetrius and Hermia, Lysander and Helena. Their aborted romances thread throughout and would rival the play’s other elements, except that they’re acted with an annoying fatuousness. Marjan Neshat is a flat Hermia, while Gretchen Hall is a screechy Helena. The men, Gregory Wooddell as Demetrious and Albert Jones as Lysander, fare better. Though “the course of true love never did run smooth,” the love scenes are excessively rough-hewn.
Settle uses the park’s trees as enchanting background to what is essentially one of those plays that treats the forest as a place more honest and basic than the city. Thus, when the low-class Bottom, one of the “rude mechanicals,” boldly enters the spirit realm, he embodies one of the play’s themes: “Reason and love keep little company together nowadays,” he says. “The more the pity that some honest neighbors will not make them friends.”
The lines have poignancy, so much so that not only the sorcery at the end but the awakening of Bottom from his dream at the start of Act Two yield the evening’s most provocative moments. Other pluses are the lovely score by the one-named Stew and the surprisingly touching Pyramus and Thisbe scene which riffs not only on theater itself but transformations and dreams.
As Theseus says, “As imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” Out of “airy nothing,” comes this “sweet comedy” that unites audiences and actors as “merry wanderers of the night.”
This review first appeared in The Hour, 6.25.09