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Theater Review (NYC): A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Secret Theatre

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Love is in the air, and on the earth lovers of both fairies and foolish mortals collide in the forest outside Athens, resulting in one midsummer night that none will soon forget. Throw in a bunch of amateur actors, including a ham named Bottom given to making an ass out of himself, and you may think it all a dream. But on The Secret Theatre's stage, it is a dream of uncommon reality that you are unlikely to sleep through.

The production, which opened last week in Long Island City, Queens, is truly magical — an extraordinary theatrical experience. Everything about this dream-inspired production, complete with the entire cast dressed in colorful pajamas, feels honest. It also feels deeply imagined, and unique, and alive thanks to solid direction from Katherine M. Carter and great performances from a number of sensationally gifted actors.

Midsummer is widely considered one of the Bard’s most lighthearted pieces, its pre-screwball comedy and romantic roundelays easily accessible to audiences. Along with Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer is probably the Shakespearean title most frequently performed in theatres all over the world.

Ms. Carter has succeeded in drawing us in to a world of mystery, subtlety, and wonder, with a completely white set that is playful and indeed dreamlike. The stage is mostly bare, save for two blocks and four pieces of fabric (representing columns) hanging from the ceiling. And although the forest is dark (thanks to some imaginative lighting by Lisa Hufnagel) it isn't sinister, and is made appealing with the addition of evocative music composed by Jillian Marie Walker.

Shakespeare brings us three worlds: the sophisticated court of Athens, wherein two sets of lovers, Hermia (Angelica Duncan) and Lysander (Joe Mulen), and Helena (Katie Braden) and Demetrius (James Parenti) are having their problems, augmented by the interference of a second world ensconced in the nearby forest: Oberon, King of the Fairies (Randy Warsaw), who for his part is having problems with his queen, Titania (Tiffany D. Turner). Oberon's aide Puck (Jeni Ahlfeld) assists his master in all sorts of peculiar deeds, usually designed to make mortals uncomfortable, such as placing an herb into the lovers' eyes to confuse their affections. Puck does likewise for Titania, who awakes to find herself in love with an ass, so metamorphosed by Bottom the weaver (Chris Kateff) with the aid of a fluffy head band.

Theseus, Duke of Athens (Brandon Hillen) will soon celebrate his nuptials to the passionate Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Heidi Zenz).

Then we are introduced to the third world, namely, the "rude mechanicals," workmen of the area — amateur actors who will put on a production of Pyramus and Thisbe to entertain the lords and ladies of the court. They are Bottom the Weaver (Chris Kateff), Peter Quince, a carpenter (Timothy J. Cox), Francis Flute, a bellows mender (Andrew Ash), tailor Robin Starveling (Charlotte Layne Dunn), Tom Snout, a tinker (Miriam Mintz), and Snug, a joiner (Timothy Williams).

It is in the setting forth separately and later intertwining the three worlds that makes for the fascination that A Midsummer Night's Dream has held for audiences since Elizabethan times.

Angelica Duncan is a fiercely strong Hermia – she has a beautiful voice for Shakespeare – and Katie Braden is a tender, shattered Helena; they’re the emotional center of this Midsummer. Joe Mullen, an intensely giving actor, makes a heartfelt Lysander, and when he and the equally giving James Parenti's Demetrius both fall victim to the same fairy spell, the men joyously play fools of the highest order.

Surrounding A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s romantic quartet are a number of sensationally gifted actors, the breadth of their talents proves downright intimidating. Randy Warsaw and Tiffany D, Turner are magnificently imperious as Oberon and Titania, while Jeni Ahlfeld is a vibrant, devious Puck.

The company of Players, led by Timothy J. Cox as a wonderfully realized Peter Quince, are a lively group of clowns that had me laughing all the way to the very end. Special mention must go to Chris Kateff who gave a superlative Bottom. At times reminiscent of a young Tom Hanks, he was entertaining from start to finish and deservedly indulgent as Pyramus in the play within the play, which was certainly a crowd pleaser. This was counterbalanced by Andrew Ash's screamingly funny Thisbe and by Miriam Mintz's vivid rendition of Wall.

A celebration of love, community and the power of theater, this is a Dream you don’t want to wake from.

A MIdsummer Night's Dream runs at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City until January 3. For information on tickets, please visit The Secret Theatre's website.

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  • Michael Dietz

    I agree with this review completely. I have seen many shows at The Secret Theatre in the last year and this production is by far, the best I have ever seen from this company. Well done all!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    WARNING: Based on the evidence, which he has not bothered to refute, Joseph Arthur Clay is a plagiarist. See here.