“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Interart Theater, Through April 12, 2010
By David St.-Lascaux
Four hundred years later, “we foolish mortals” are still in love – with stage plays by the long-gone Bard. And because we can’t help ourselves, we fools for variety seek new ways to mix it up, to keep it fresh. Of course, we do so at our peril, risking artifice and failure. Still, whether Kate the Shrew a flapper, or Romeo an LA tough, the Bard astonishingly accommodates interpretation. Turns out that universal human qualities transcend frail fashion and mere transient time. So that when Blessed Unrest unleashes an ensemble TV synchronized dance number (the double entendre of a “Bad Romance [I Want Your Love]” – “I want your drama…”) in a dream sequence from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it works – no really, I so really mean, it really works.
Blessed Unrest, Jessica Burr’s unique company, promotes itself as experimental, and there is a necessary (if absurd in New York in 2010), nudity advisory (OMG, Hippolyta [the wicked, major Laura Wickens, who also plays Titania, Queen of the Fairies], Queen of the Amazons, bathes in posterior in the opening scene in the presence of her husband-to-be, Theseus, Duke of Athens [played by the regal, potent Carlos Alberto Valencia]). The experiment in Burr’s interpretation of Midsummer is the metaphorically progressive, literally physical baring of the psyches (read bodies) of the lovers as the play progresses, specifically the four starcrossed human ones: Hermia (the appropriately ingenuish Vaishnavi Sharma, who also plays the “rude mechanical” Snug with snarky duncitude), in love with Lysander (the earnest Stephen Drabicki), hexed to fall in love with Helena (the overwrought Hannah Wilson, who also plays Peter Quince with manic ditsiness), in love with Demetrius (Hizzoner Stephen Pilkington), hexed also to vie with Lysander for Helena’s attentions. (And of course, Titania, hexed by her husband, Oberon [played by the sparkling, dry, imperious Damen Scranton, who also plays with wistful wonderment the addled bumpkin mortal Nick Bottom], to fall in love with Bottom, hexed to temporarily have the head of an ass. [End common-knowledge plot summary.]) These humans progressively peel each other’s outerwear down to their skivvies. As the clothing flies and piles up, the audience internally speculates as to the particulars of their impending, inevitable total nudity: what will be effectuated, and what will it feel like – to us, not them. We do know, after all, the words, and that it can’t really, can it, go that far? It will not be revealed here.
Several secondary innovations: Lysander’s (and others’) sign language dialog, and The Weather, symbolized by carried, skeletal umbrellas. The former not employed throughout (one would have liked to see the play entirely be signed in parallel), so thus unclear in its intention; the latter a visual mortar to support Burr’s meteorological interpretation. And the ever-present Oberon, enthroned upstage atop a tall stepladder, oft-times joined by Puck (the sprite-conjuring [no suspension of disbelief required], crowd-pleasing Davina Cohen, who also plays Snout/Starveling in artistic license variation, as well as Philostrate).
Midsummer presents a deft argument for historical, dramatic reiteration in a world always seeking novelty and short on cultural memory. Seeing Midsummer, in which so many lines are gems, reinforces an appreciation of Shakespeare, and recovers “rubies, fairy favors,” long forgotten, or perhaps unremarked in decades past: “the forgeries of jealousy,” the “thief of love,” “oath on oath,” “lovers and madmen” (“and the poet”) and the rest. A sometimes error: in their enthusiasm, these otherwise fine actors sometimes rattled off their brilliant lines a bit too fast. “O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!” Lente, lente. There will be other days: we have all night, enchanted by your fairy spells. This is a serious comedy about love and conjugation, and that’s no hasty matter.
Interart’s intimate setting means all great seats; Evan Prizant’s minimal, mottled scenery and piled-up discarded costumes, and Rachel Gilmore’s transparent lighting all perfectly supportive; and the music, as noted, with its augmenting moments. Imagined or real, Burr’s Blessed Dream refreshes; Puck’s apologia superfluous, we wander off into the poet’s moonlit night, madmen and lovers well beguiled.
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For more information about Blessed Unrest’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, visit http://www. blessedunrest.org.
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