Friday, May 4, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Sexy, Puckish Romp

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Classic Stage Company is in no way a perfect production but Taylor Mac's Puck, inventive direction, rigorous fight choreography, some lusty and exciting new performers make for a raucous evening and a fun romp.

This production, with set design by Mark Wendland and lighting design by Tyler Micoleau is staged with a tilted, large mirrored set where dreamlike visions are reflected and fairies and magic can spring from it.  Lighting effects make excellent use of the mirror and the artificial mulch that covered the "forest floor." 

The production embraces the spirit of excess with over the top costuming (Hulk hands, sparkly nipples, a pink elephant, a bearded lady), massive amounts of heavenly petals, gratuitous scenes of young people running around in their underwear (well for that I thank you director Tony Speciale).  This "excess" at times is silly but at other times highlighted a fantastic tongue-in-cheek tone the play benefited from.

Central to this success and tone is Taylor Mac as Puck.  Impish with a Southern drawl, he brings a delicious sense of mischief, decadence and spirit to the role.  His costumes get more elaborate and ridiculous over time but his honest, sincere delivery in the performance made it all work.  He also delivered some of the best lines--as he was struggling to rip pants off one of the Athenians he bemoaned "goddamn skinny jeans."

The casting of the the quarrelsome four lovers, Hermia (Christina Ricci), Lysander (Nick Gehlfuss), Demetrius (Jordan Dean), and Helena (Halley Wegryn Gross), must have been a lot of fun as the men and women are meant to look very much alike and look very nice in their undergarments.  Strongest of the four performance-wise is Gross.  She has great comic timing and a fine grasp of the metre and text.  Dean (recently seen in Mamma Mia and the object of @thecraptacular's affection) and Gehlfuss are left to gesticulate a bit too much for my liking but when the romantic frenzy escalates they are strong physical performers and excelled in the feats they were given here.  Their sensitivity and command of the text has its ups and down.  From time to time, I got a little distracted from their performances by their abs but I believe that was in fact the director's intention. This is Midsummer Night's Dream and not Hamlet.  They are playing frisky lovers under the spell of fairies.  They do this well--with their abs on full display.  The lovers' argument is choreographed (by George de la Pena with fight choreography by Carrie Brewer) like a wacky pillow fight at a sorority.   I happened to enjoy it and the dropping of serious pretense--others might not.  Ricci was weakest for me.  She seemed to struggle to find her voice as the headstrong but mindless romantic Hermia.  She played it very one note.

The Oberon/Titania and Theseus/Hippolyta storylines were a lot less fun.  Anthony Heald just seemed out of place in this production.  Awkwardly costumed in Green Goblin cast-offs as Oberon, he came across as stiff and uncomfortable.   He was not as limber or graceful as Neuwirth and their scenes together dragged.  Neuwirth was cold and detached as a dominatrix style Hippolyta, which worked but I would have liked a bit more spark for Titania.  Steven Skybell seemed to channeling Robin Williams for his interpretation of Bottom which worked best when he played the giant ass.

An unexpectedly modern and entertaining production that is worth checking out.  Come for the lust, stay for the creative direction and approach.

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