Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Elihu Kramer

Set Design by Zeynep Bakkal
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Sound Design by Cameron Willard
Assistant Director Sarah Golden Martin
Production Dramaturg/Assosciate Producer Bridget Fry
Assistant Stage Manager John J. King/Elizabeth S. Ross
Production Stage Manager Mary P. Costello

Lysander/Peter Quince/Ensemble
Shelley Bolman
Elizabeth Hayes
Angie Jepson
Ben Lambert
Egeus/Nick Bottom
Robert Pemberton
Paula Plum
Risher Reddick
Timothy John Smith

Can you Do "Midsummer" with only eight actors? Boston Theatre Works can. Everyone plays two roles, but five of them get "Ensemble" tacked on and flit energetically off-stage as fairies only to dash back as Flute, or ThisNe, Snout or Helena. Director Daniel Elihu Kramer has put his Athenians in off-the-rack dark contemporary dress, demanded licketysplit but honestly human readings for everybody, and sent them rocketing around in clear breakneck blocking. The words "charming" and "hilarious" chase one another around in my mind, and end up as a dead heat. The details flit by so fast it'll be hard to tell which one you're laughing at. But laugh you will!

And yet this is a delicately nuanced "Midsummer Night" full of expressive subtlety. The times are out of joint, it seems, less from the fairy wars than the brangle of rulers. When Robert Pemberton's Egeus drags his unruly daughter (Angie Jepson) before Timothy John Smith's Theseus, the king urges her, as her father's property, to "obey or die the death" and after a tender pause "...or abjure forever the society of men." But as he gently explains the law of Athens, see how loudly the wordless face of his Hippolyta standing next to him reacts in wide-eyed astonishment at his tyrant's vein. Here Paula Plum's expressions speaks volumes. Later on, Elizabeth Hayes as Helena --- explaining straight to the audience as many often do --- plunges one moment near to tears yet brightens into smiles a mere phrase later, and each time aptly suited to the text.

Hardly has stern-hearted Egeus gone than Pemberton bounces back as a boyish bully Bottom --- so confident a Community Theater thespian he's willing to play all the parts himself. Here again, his chief humor is for a tyrant; a lover is more condoling. (These amateur actors all wear jackets with their names writ on labels over their hearts, and look a little like a bowling team.)

Bottom's acting style --- all their acting style --- is to enter, strike an attitude, then say the line. And as with other plays at The Globe, they give the audience three chances to get the plot: first in an explanatory prologue, then in mime, and finally in words an action combined. And thus they get three chances to over-act.

Then, due to a mistake by Ben Lambert's athletic Puck, both Risher Reddick and Shelley Bolman transfer their true-love from Jepson's Hermia to Hayes's Helena and the arguments start. Yet it is with a chilling sincerity that Bolman chides the woman he loved moments before with " 'Tis no jest that I do hate thee, and love Helena." It's in the phrasing, the pauses, the directness of every single speech from everyone that the rippling surface of this ever-new text shines.

But there are things in this comedy that may never please; to whit: it is common to have the actors playing Theseus and Hippolyta reappear playing the king and queen of Faerie, and so it is here --- yet the lines for King Oberon are given to Paula Plum while Timothy John Smith plays --- Titania. (I admit to being puzzled for several speeches till I caught on to this reversal.) 'Tis true that the nearly speechless Hippolyta has most of the lines after being thus translated. But what should the audience-mind make of the fact that it's a male Titania that straightway loves an ass, i.e. Bottom! This must be seen to be digested...

The best plays are always new-made every production, every performance. This remakes itself at every change of costume, change of actor: a stripped-down romp with actors in black slippers, or socks, white muslin robes for fairies, and Titania's bower an abandoned bathtub. It's the clarity of every phrase, the sudden energy everywhere that make it sing.

( a k a larry stark )

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1 February - 3 March)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617)728.4321

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide