|Titania embracing Bottom|
Last night we braved a torrential midsummer downpour to attend Little Flame Theatre's production of Shakespeare's comedy Midsummer Night's Dream. We forgot all about the torrential downpour as we were showered by laughter and provocative insights. We rarely review theater because we are so busy with opera but we loved theater long before we loved opera and it was a real pleasure to see it done so well. We are happy to tell you, dear reader, that this iteration of MND far surpasses the dozen or so we have seen before.
In place of costly woodland sets and elaborate costumes, we had a bare stage, thrift shop costuming, and some sensational acting and directing. The director, Drew Bolander, is known to us as a versatile performer in Alyce Mott's Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! We have reviewed his fine singing and acting in at least eight operettas, remarking upon his versatility in assuming many different roles. We never knew of his directing skills.
Aside from the fine performances we were impressed by how Mr. Bolander made psychological sense of the characters' interactions. We have always been bored by the scenes with the "rustics" but last night, each was given a different personality. Stealing the show was Vira Slywotsky, known to us for her fine work with the aforementioned VHRPL and also for her excellence as an interpreter of lieder for Five Boroughs Music Festival, Mirror Visions Ensemble, and more recently in Vira and Friends. Last night her over-the-top performance gave us a Bottom that stood for all of the self important members of amateur theatrical groups everywhere. Her mobile face and expansive bodily gestures created a memorable and hilarious character.
Let us also single out, for the moment, Jadé Davis who opened the show as Hippolyta, facing off with Theseus, the Duke of Athens--and in an interesting role switch, became a very masculine Oberon. Theseus was portrayed by Eamon Murphy who then assumed the role of Titania, complete with bushy beard and moustache. This gender reversal was funny as all getout as he camped up the feminine role.
Casting the role of Aegeus with the very matronly appearing Zoey Rutherford as the self-righteous mother of Hermia (a highly winning Naziah Black), toting a big fat book of law to plead her case with Theseus, was just about perfect. She also appeared as Peter Quince, working hard to contain Bottom's ambition.
We were not quite as enthusiastic with casting the role of Helena with a very campy Michael Witkes. We were asked to believe that "he" (and yes, that was the pronoun that was used) was in love with and rejected by Demetrius (the handsome Ben Ubiñas) and won out in the end by the administration of the magic flower. This made us uncomfortable since it implied that Demetrius, set to marry Helena, could so easily change his gender of choice. We live at a time when "conversion therapy" has been discredited although some fundamentalist religions are clinging to the concept. Perhaps we are taking the entire issue too seriously but we did feel uncomfortable.
Not only was Naziah Black adorable, headstrong, and expressive but her beloved Lysander (Ashton Garcia) won our affection as well. The scene in which she insists that he make his bed "a little farther off" was extremely well played.
The mischievous Puck was well played by Meaghan J. Johnson and the three fairies attending upon Titania were played by RG, Lindsay Hope Simon, and Bear Spiegal. The three were given some excellent choreography by Kelsey Hercs who also designed their clever costumes and makeup.
This production is part of the Frigid New York Festival of Summer Nights in which the Bard's masterpiece is being given five different interpretations. We do not have time to review them all but we urge you to catch the production we just saw which will be repeated on July 25th and 30th, as well as August 1st and 3rd at the Kraine Theater in the East Village. We also invite you to look at our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) to see photos from the production.
(c) meche kroop
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