arts 03.17.04

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Late in Act V, when the mechanicals are performing their play-within-a-play, Thisby, the tragic heroine, delivers one of her doleful lines and then does something you probably have never seen in any production of A Midsummer Night's Dream: she gets off one quick high kick before exiting. It's a quick kick, mind you — you might not even register it amidst the mayhem. But it tells you everything you need to know about the enchantingly slap-happy production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that has just alighted at BAM, 718.636.4100, (now in previews for a two-week run). That kick is a frankly insane bit of business, perfectly inappropriate, one of dozens of cockeyed, wildly fresh ideas that make this comedy rollick. It is impossible not to be smitten.

Director Edward Hall and his marvelous Propeller troupe from England haven't imposed an arbitrary architecture on the play — they have instead followed Shakespeare's directive. As Hippolyta says: "It must be your imagination then…" This is not a reimagined Midsummer, but a newly imagined one, and one that kicks high.

That Mr. Hall's company is all-male certainly adds an additional set of ricochets to the many crisscrossing romantic and sexual complications but it is isn't employed to cheap effect (and of course is true to Shakespeare's time). While it may take you a few minutes to look beyond, say, Helena's thatch of chest hair, it's soon enough that Mr. Hall and company will have you trying to sort out the entanglements under much the same dreamy spell as the characters.

You will likely remember two scenes in particular: the Pyramus and Thisby playlet (usually a crowd-pleaser), but also the Act III square-off between Hermia (Jonathan McGuinness) and Helena (Robert Hands), to which Messrs. McGuinness and Hands bring great skill in both interpretation ("You counterfeit, you puppet, you!" gets a particularly throaty reading) and in broad physical comedy. (It's a highly physical production — note how often and in how many ways characters touch each other.)

Mr. Hall and Co. also leave their mark by the accumulation of dozens of pitch-perfect details. It is in Puck's (Simon Scardifield in a lovely performance) reaction when he realizes he has applied magic potion to the wrong Athenian. Or when Bottom (played by the excellent Tony Bell), the only human to be able to see the fairy world, has been turned into an ass and tries mustering hauteur with the fairies to order in some food ("I could munch your good dry oats."). Or the red rose on a white set of lifeguard-style chairs atop ladders. Or the costumes, obviously designed under the influence of some mind-altering substance, so that pinafores, leather bustiers, and sparkly shoes work in harmony. Or the clever use of aptly-chosen harmonicas. (And, a word of advice, do not stay in your seat for intermission — be sure to go to the lobby.)

The two hours and forty minutes you spend with the Propeller company is a high-kick from start to finish. As we left the theatre, we thought, this is a group we'd like to party with — and then we realized, we just did.
After praising for the Batalia/Bastianich team yesterday in our Hot List, we heard from superb chef Jonathan Waxman, who made this well-taken point: "I think you guys forgot the real man at Casa Mono — Andy Nusser. His quiet, behind-the-scene cooking made Babbo the cornerstone of Mario & Joe's dynasty. Now he has taken his childhood knowledge of Spain and provided us with the stellar Casa Mono — kudos to the chef!"


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