Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Jonathan Hopkins
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
Smith Street Stage brings a vibrant production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Actors Fund after a run at Carroll Park in Brooklyn earlier this month. Jonathan Hopkins directs a dynamic cast with specificity and joy, and the spirit of one of Shakespeare’s most well-trodden romps is freshly invigorated in this performance.
Set in contemporary New York, but in a dreamlike, slightly offset New York, the more problematic aspects of the script when transposed from its original setting (Hermia likely to die for refusing to marry Demetrius, Hippolyta as a prize after the Amazons war with Theseus) are answered without excessive leaps of logic. Costumes by Bevin McNally clearly telegraph the social status of all characters and are excellent footholds for anyone new to Shakespeare for more easily navigating who belongs with whom in which group at any given moment. The addition of live acoustic music composed by Joe Jung creates a magical summery ambiance atop Andrew Diaz’s set. The atmosphere of this play is lovely and evocative, and the design provides an enchanting backdrop for charming and skilled performers.
With a compelling and invigorating cast, this production moves with energy and fervor. Patrick Harvey’s Puck is equal parts impish and diabolical, Baize Buzan’s Helena is exquisitely histrionic, and the chemistry among the poor mechanicals brings new light to the subplot. There is unfortunately a moment toward the end of the play when Pyramus, played by Corey Whelihan’s Bottom, takes ten to fifteen minutes completing his suicide scene (a scene that reads very differently in 2018 than it may have in even 2015). The multiple ways Pyramus takes his own life grow tiresome after version number six (of exactly how many one is not sure, but easily a multiple of that figure). Though the scene is met with laughter from a fair portion of the audience, it derails the dramaturgy and aesthetic so carefully crafted in the rest of the play; being so close to the end of the performance, it taints the experience a bit. The players’ bit is fun and has some fantastic moments, but the literal overkill of Bottom’s performance is the first moment in a two-plus hour play when one may be tempted to check their watch.
Smith Street Stage brings Shakespeare to Carroll Park every summer, and this installation at The Actors Fund will hopefully not be their last. It is clear the company loves and deeply understands Shakespeare’s work, and though A Midsummer Night’s Dream has ended its run, one would be wise to sign up for the mailing list now to be sure not to miss this delightful company’s next project.
Reviewed on 15 July 2018 | Image: Chris Montgomery Photography