note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
Scenic Design by Henry Celli
Lighting Design by Michael Abdow
Costume Design by Rachel Padula
W. Ryan Kipp
Natasha Michelle MacDonald
If their "Midsummer Night's Dream" is any indication, The Other Theatre may be evolving a coherent style. One element of it is a bouncy, youthful physical energy that allows them both to move and to stand still with deliberate precision. Another is a total trust in each other, allowing them to launch themselves at one another with explosive abandon. Their commitment to performers on a stage as their primary tool means that their staging has a "less is more" concentration, so the minimal sets and props they do use speak eloquently without ever getting in the way. Director Carie Esquenazi has harnessed all that to the musical verse and satirical comedy of Shakespeare's continually original dream play.
What other company would feel selflessly confident enough to have only a baker's dozen actors play twenty-one named characters --- and then list performers alphabetically and never tell who played what? What other company would give all the parts (save for Thisby) in the play-within-a-play to women, including even Nick Bottom the ego that struts like an actor? This is a group more in love with the doing than taking curtain-calls.
Henry Celli's set and Michael Abdow's lighting evoke the gauzy feeling of dream with a diagonal row of unpainted cloth frames two of which Puck opens to let fairies appear and disappear through the suddenly more complicated set, with backlighting making their shadows as real as their bodies. The fairy folk wear elaborately feathered and glistering masks and move with an animal unreality mostly in black velvet tunics and bare feet. Mortals run to contemporary formals for the grown-ups, simple shifts and chino's and sneekers for the quartet of young lovers.
It is the nearly teen-age blusterful passion of these mismated kids that steals the center of the play. Bewitched by a Puck totally a goat-faced, chin-whiskered satyr, they have at one another in paroxysms of love or anger enough for all the school playgrounds in the city.
Early on, the rhyme of the lines gets emphasized, the sense pushed through the liltingly rhythmic music. Later the quarrels of crossed lovers comes near to physical blows, while the most comical tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe is a bombastic send-up of community-theater gaffes and histrionics, with the off-stage cast visible through the muslin walls cheering on their fellow thespians.
The only obviously mature actor doubled as the stern, officious father of Hermia, then as Peter Quince the playwright/director. A rather stiff Theseus and Hyppolyta come alive later as Titania and Oberon, while the floating, flitting Cobweb, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed are back as stolidly rude mechanicals whose Peter Quince and his star Nick Bottom spend more time interpreting their play than actually playing it. And poor Lion, once tasting an audience's atention would be bowing yet if they'd let him. I mean her.
The small, square, bare-walled Actors' Workshop stage seems perfectly suited to this company's ebulliantly energetic performing style. Director Esquenazi knows when to hold them under control, when to let them explode. And with Shakespeare's excellent words to work with, they get lots of chances at both.