Saturday, August 4, 2007

Midsummer Night's Dream on the Common

Last week, I twice attended the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's free production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which, provided you can get good seating, was a wonderful show (I went Friday last with a friend who has children and a good half of the stage was obscured by foliage-- while I had a great view, including the other half of the stage, on Sunday when I went alone.) This year's Shakespeare on the Common production was marred by budget cuts that resulted in a scaled back run (one week instead of the typical three weeks) even though the President and CEO of the Citi Performing Arts Center (CPAC), Josiah Spaulding Jr. received a $1.265 million bonus. Bill Marx does a terrific job of following the money trail on his blog.

However, since I am an artist and know nothing of money (said by Charlie Chaplin in contract negotiations with First National films just before stating "I only know that I want one million dollars") let me sketch out what I thought of the production:

While spectacle is a necessity when presenting a play in a big open space like the Boston Common, the scaled back budget did not harm the production values of the show. The minimalist stage merely meant that the spectacle had to come from the actors' performances rather than fancy set designs.

Those familiar with the play, are aware of the three main plot lines each of which involve their own troupe of players. What distinguished these three groups: The Athenians, the Mechanicals, and the Fairies from one another was not just the costuming, but styles of physical acting.

The Athenian lovers -- the most one dimensional of characters in the written script -- are exactly the stock comic lovers of European renaissance comedy (they would be equally at home in the Italian commedia dell'arte) but what made them so effective in this production was that they took the character's adolescent petulance into realms of slapstick: Hermia being flung off the stage, a rageful Helena throwing herself at Hermia and being caught by Lysander and Demetrius, Helena and Hermia climbing onto the shoulders of Lysander and Demetrius as if preparing for a joust.

The Mechanicals were a troupe of capable physical comedians of another order entirely: skilled clowns (I certainly detected a great deal of physical technique in all of them) they certainly gave the appearance of being a cohesive troupe-- indeed just the sort of physical comedy troupe in which I would like to take part some day. Fred Sullivan, Jr. was a great Nick Bottom, and Leslie Harrell Dillen's manic portrayal of Tom Snout (the mechanical who plays "Wall" in the play within a play sequence) caused me to briefly forget Bill Irwin's very different Snout in Michael Hoffman's 1999 film adaptation.

The Fairies were choreographed by my ballet teacher, Anna Myer (whom I have mentioned before), and while they often exhibited the ethereal nature one associates with ballet, she also imbued them with a lusty Dionysian quality-- and while I have read in the blogosphere many comparisons to Cirque du Soleil (whom I happen to adore), I found the effect to be that of a court masque performed by satyrs. They were appropriately otherworldly and without Athenian propriety. (Anna told me after class this past Tuesday, that while her duties were mostly to choreograph the Fairies, she also choreographed the final dance with the Mechanicals, and was consulted on some of the other scenes as well.)

(I'd like to add that J Hagenbuckle's music and sound design also added much to the show-- mixing elements of sound collage, goth-rock, electronica, and a number of genres I'm too out of touch with contemporary pop to identify.)

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