SHOWING : May 20, 2002 - June 23, 2002
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Tuesday, June 25, 2002 ||
Stage Door Players production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was filled with |
invention, energy, talent, and humor. Considering all the positive notices
it's received on the ATML line, I feel rather churlish in pointing out that
it doesn't all work. A few performances were on the weak side (none fatally
so) and much of the staging seemed to follow proscenium paradigms rather than
"Audience-on-2-sides." But, most significantly, the production did not
follow through on its promise to create "an interactive spectacle including
elements of Classical Theatre, Cirque Du Soleil, Vaudeville, Commedia Del
Arte (sic), Improvisation, Ballet, Hip Hop & Physical Theatre." It included
a taste of some of those elements to be sure, but they were not consistent or
compelling or accurate enough to achieve the promise stated. And, more
disastrously, the overabundance of schtick drained the climactic "Pyramus and
Thisby" scene of all humor -- this was the most disastrously unfunny Rude
Mechanicals sequence I have ever seen (and, in the past five years, I've seen
over seven productions of this play, in addition to 2 films of it). To be
fair, it must be stated that the full house audience with I saw the show
found many occasions for laughter that I did not, but it struck me as more
polite than uncontrolled laughter.
What worked best about the production were its performances (in general), its
physical design (mostly bare stage with abstract shapes of white along the
back edges), and its audience interaction elements. Director Scott Fugate
wisely chose to make the Fairies' story the emotional center of the piece.
His sprites interacted with the audience from the time the house doors opened
through the end, and the lobby was decorated as if it were the real entrance
to the Fairy Kingdom. He also restructured the play so that it opens with
the Oberon/Titania feud, beautifully staged as if it were out of West Side
Story. This served to heighten the dreamlike aspects of the piece, making
the "mere mortals" a product of a magical imagination.
And, for the most part, the performances were much better than would be
expected in a company which had never tried Shakespeare. Particular
standouts were the Oberon and Titania of Jai Anthony-Lewis Husband and Jenaye
Adkins, the Hermia and Helena of Jennifer Dees and Amander Cucher (although
their relative statures necessitated the exclusion of all the tall/short
references in the fight scene), the Puck of Joey Cleary, and the Hippolyta of
Tracy Martin (who, for the first time in my experience, made the Hippolyta
seem like a defeated warrior). Less successful were the young men, Lysander
and Demetrius, both of whom were fine when they weren't talking, but who
suffered severe "mush-mouth" and "reader-syndrome" whenever they had lines
(Reader Syndrome is the unfortunate tendency of inexperienced Shakespeareans
to let their voices trail off at the ends of sentences). And, Bottom's first
scene didn't work for me either - he just was not big enough or "needy"
enough, and he seemed far too young.
The staging also proved to be a major distraction. The theatre was
configured with the audience on two sides, but, most scenes were played to
the empty aisle between the two audience sections. It was as if it was
decided that that area was "Downstage Center". Unfortunately, the result was
that, to steal the "Producers" joke, "Nobody had a good seat." This is a
common problem with directors who have no knowledge of quadrants, and who
believe weak and strong stage positions are identical in proscenium and
thrust configurations. But, my understanding is that Mr. Fugate understands
the differences, so I'm not sure why this choice was made. It was especially
distracting in the "Pyramus and Thisby" scene, where the Mechanicals were
playing not to the royals, not to the audience, but to that empty aisle.
More problematic was the decision to put Titania's "Bower" in that open
aisle. Anything staged there proved to be totally invisible to most of the
audience. My guess is that this choice was made to increase audience
interaction, which I'm sure it did for the few people sitting along the
aisle. But forgetting the bulk of the audience was a questionable decision.
Now, to get back to that broken promise. I saw no evidence of Classical
Theatre, Vaudeville, or Commedia dell'Arte in the production, and the Hip Hop
section was confined to one Fairy chorus, a decision jarringly out-of-step
with the tone of the other Fairy sequences (but amusing in and of itself).
Think what an affect following through on this idea would have had!
Classical Greek tragedy in the Theseus/Hippolyta story, Commedia and/or
Vaudeville in the Rude Mechanicals story, Standard Elizabethan Romance (or
even an exaggerated Victorian Melodrama style) for the lovers' story - all
springing from the imaginations of the fairies. Not only would it have been
a thematically coherent "smorgasbord" of styles interacting with each other,
it would have high-lighted the theatrical themes of the work, especially
evidenced by Puck's final farewell-to-the-audience speech. Instead, we got
"safe" choices - dance numbers which went on for far too long and which
served only to show us which cast members were dancers and which were not,
schtick having nothing to do with character and plot and everything to do
with trying too hard for laughs and making inside jokes (I'm told the duck in
the final scene finds its way into all Fugate-directed shows), and occasional
moments disparate and inappropriate stylization. It's a bit like going to a
smorgasbord and getting a partial taste of everything without any satisfying
portions of anything.
So, I applaud the concept of the show and the energy and talent of the young
cast, especially considering that few have had any Shakespearean experience.
But I do have to question many of the staging choices made. And I especially
have to question promising a wonderful concept, but delivering more of the
Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]