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Theater Review (Queens, NY): A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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It’s easy to throw A Midsummer Night’s Dream out of balance – there are the pairs of moon-crossed lovers, and then there are those rude mechanicals. Often the lovers are in such perfect sync with their out-of-whack, juice-of-the-flower-induced crisscrossing that Nick Bottom and his pals seem superfluous. Or contrariwise, the preparation and performance of “the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe” can be so delightful that the romantic mix-ups pale in comparison.

So it is a pleasure to report that Katherine M. Carter's dream-inspired production, which opened Thursday night at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, is an adorable delight all around, thanks to a brisk pace, enchanting music, and solid performances from an enthusiastic cast.

For those who don't know, Midsummer is Shakespeare's magical classic comedy that involves two pairs of lovers who, after facing a romantic dilemma, flee into the woods only to become the playthings of a group of fairies who are having their own romantic challenges. There is a royal wedding with entertainment by an inept troupe of would-be actors who also fall prey to the fairy antics while rehearsing in the woods. Much confusion ensues with magic and mistaken identities before the air is cleared and things wrap up with a hilarious play within a play (which in this production is quite hilarious indeed).

Unlike some of the Bard's plays, Midsummer's setting is pretty malleable. I have seen productions set in everything from medieval castles to unknown planets without compromising the text. From the moment I walked into the Secret Theatre for last night's performance, I was instantly swept away in director Carter's world.

She has chosen to set her entire piece in a dream, with a stage that is white as snow and bare, save for two blocks and a few pieces of fabric hanging from the ceiling, representing columns. Her company of actors are dressed in colorful and very comfortable-looking pajamas (I was a little jealous). It’s welcoming, relaxing, and yes, dreamlike. The original music, composed by sound designer Jillian Marie Walker, adds to the magic and wonder, and the lighting design by Lisa Hufnagel perfectly captures the mood of the piece. 

It is a very playful environment that Carter has created and she has directed her fantastic ensemble cast to play, and boy, do they ever. Tiffany D. Turner and Randy Warsaw both excel as the fairy royals Titania and Oberon, as does the vivacious Jeni Ahlfeld (who also designed the lovely pajama costumes) as Oberon's servant Puck. The four lovers in this play can often be generic and hard to tell apart, but this Hermia (Angelica Duncan), Demetrius (James Parenti), Lysander (Joe Mullen), and Helena (Katie Braden) all have great moments with strong individual personalities and they are very, very funny as well.

Then there are the mechanicals. As led by Chris Kateff’s gloriously ridiculous Bottom, they are anything but common folk. All of them – Timothy J. Cox as the hapless director Peter Quince, Andrew Ash as Flute,  Charlotte Layne Dunn as Starveling, Miriam Mintz as Snout, and Timothy Williams as Snug (complete with tiny bear companion) – under- and over-play beautifully, making their appearances seem too few, and too brief.

Rounding out the ensemble is Charles Baker, who does fine work as Hermia's stubborn father, Egeus, as do Brandon Hillen and Heidi Zenz as Theseus and Hippolyta respectively. Sarah King (who sings wonderfully in the production, like a young Joni Mitchell) and Trish Phelps also provide able support in their brief roles as Peaseblossom and Cobweb.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at The Secret Theatre until January 3rd. For information on tickets, please visit www.secrettheatre.com.

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About Hannah Marie Ellison