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Theater Review (NYC): A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Fairy Queen From Queens in Manhattan

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Coming into Manhattan like a ship at Fleet Week, The Queens Shakespeare Company arrived this week-end with its large troupe to finish up a successful run of its spring A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Moving from Flushing’s Bowne Street Church to the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, and then to the Grand Theatre at The Producers Club on 44th Street, the theatre company, despite an uneven cast, fulfills the comic promises of one of Shakespeare’s greatest entertainments.

Director Jonathan Emerson (who also plays an exuberant to the point of hyperactive Puck) efficiently steers the large ensemble into the small space of the off-off-Broaday theatre in the wild west of Hell’s Kitchen of New York City. In his director’s notes, Mr. Emerson declares his love for the mythologies touched upon by Shakespeare’s fantastical fairy characters contained in the parallel plots of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the Fairy Queen Titania (Helyn Rain Messenger), her fractious (but sometimes seemingly bored) King, Oberon (Brian Walters), and their entourage. The dynamism of Flogging Molly, the Celtic-American LA Punk Band, anticipates the production, and the rest of the evening attempts to maintain that punk sensibility, most successfully by the clownish Helena (Kathleen Fletcher) in mad pursuit of her undeserving but beloved Demetrius (Bradley LeBoeuf.)

One of two Austinite actors in the production, Ms. Fletcher, whose Helena is not to be confused with fellow Texan, Helyn Rain Messenger (Titania.) What is that slogan from Austin…Keep Austin Weird? The actresses seem to bring a little of that sentiment into their characters. Ms. Fletcher especially brings a level of clowning to Helena that shies just an inch from a Stooge and not the Iggy Pop kind. She wears green Converse and a polka dot jumper, but it’s the physical humor, including climbing in and out of the audience’s laps that define her slapstick. It’s the kind of Shakespeare that we’ve seen lately coming out of the likes of England’s Propeller Company, out-schticking the schtick.

Ms. Messenger is an attractive Titania. You have no doubts as to why Oberon would bore her and her attentions turn elsewhere, but to a ass-headed Bottom? I don’t care how long in the tooth Bottom’s character might get over these centuries of production; Bottom’s transformation is still a sublimely comic moment that will make audiences laugh well into millenniums, if it is done well like it is here with Adam Gallinat as the aspiring thespian, Nick Bottom the Weaver.

Other stand out performances include Jessica McHugh as Snug with her carpenter’s belt filled with grooming tools: hairbrushes, curling irons, and nail files; Sally Song as Titania’s Peaseblossom sits enrapt by the foolish mortals as if she herself were enchanted rather than the enchanter; and Natasha Murray moves with a dancer’s grace in the sometimes claustrophobic space of the theatre/Athens forest.

Sajeev Pillai as Lysander is one of the highlights of the production. The actor has a half-smile on his face that doesn’t come off as a smirk but rather as an existential joy. Even when impeded in his pursuit of Hermia (Heidi Zenz), Lysander’s good humor speaks of an essential elation that is sheer charisma. No wonder Hermia would risk death to run away with him. Her choice? Demetrius or death? She picks Lysander, of course.

Tonight may be the closing night, but this will be the temporary finish to the production which has plans of continuing the course of love that never runs smooth in Saratoga Springs in November. Produced by Nanette Asher, this A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an energetic, enthusiastic rendition of one of William Shakespeare’s most self-referential and funniest plays. As the director cites in his notes, “beart de réir ár mbriathar,” Gaelic for “action to match our speech.” With occasional exception, this play’s action matches the speech, and young violinist (fiddler?) Kyrian Friedenberg as the Changeling Child, the source of Titania and Oberon’s parental power struggle, brings a lovely reflection on the director’s intent at a Celtic re-imagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Remaining cast: Melissa Damas (Mustardseed), Anna Wallace-Deering (Moth), Steven Martin (Theseus), Patrick Mahoney (Peter Quince), Sarah Pencheff (Starveling), Ross Pivec (Egeus), John E. Sims (Snout), Lee Solomon (Flute), Emily Stokes (Hippolyta,Cobweb). Tara Mary Schmitt (Stage Manager).

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About Kate Shea Kennon