On the heels of its inaugural production – The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, arguably America’s greatest playwright – Masterworks Theater Company has called on England’s greatest for its second Off-Broadway adventure. Inventively directed by Tamilla Woodard, this 90-minute, highly musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream flies by like a fairy in the wind, leaving laughter and delight in its wake.
Woodard wrangles her gifted cast as artfully as Shakespeare’s Fairy King and Queen manipulate the young mortals who have fled Athens to pursue their unwieldy passions in the enchanted woods. The director draws wonderful comic performances from the entire cast. Midsummer is, to begin with, Shakespeare’s funniest play and perhaps the readiest for young modern audiences. But I’ve seen slow, uninspiring, even lugubrious productions. This is quite the opposite, distilled (and of course abridged) into one effortless-seeming 90-minute act designed to captivate audiences of all ages.
Masterworks’ Founding Director Eric Krebs specifically wants the new company to engage young audiences with the stage’s greatest literature. But last night’s house full of grownups responded as enthusiastically to Puck’s (Nick Cearley) extra-script asides and special ukulele effects, to Bottom’s (Warren Jackson) scene-chewing grandiloquence, and to Jack Herholdt’s hilarious Wall as to the crestfallen Hermia (Sheria Irving), and Helena’s (Becca Ballenger) dismay when they separately think themselves betrayed in one way or another by Lysander (Reynaldo Piniella) and Demetrius (Emilio Paul Tirado). The actors convey with authenticity the humanity of these characters, deepening and naturalizing the ribald fantasy to just the right degree.
The rest of the cast turns in notable work as well, including Jenny Strassburg as a buxom and ridiculously bewigged Titania, Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as a swaggering Oberon, Jan Leslie Harding as a Carol Burnett-esque Fairy, and Lou Liberatore as an unabashedly American Peter Quince.
The cozily charismatic Cearley, who is in “real life” half of the musical comedy duo The Skivvies, gets top billing in the press materials as Puck, but as with any good production of Shakespearean comedy, this is an ensemble production, and more than the sum of its parts. For that, credit must go to Woodard, who keeps the pace crisp, the narrative clear, and the soul of Shakespeare’s text intact despite the cuts, ever finding ways of inserting perfectly fitting funny business into the Bard’s canonical yet malleable words.
Aided by clever scenic and sound design, bold lighting, costumes that are droll without going over the top, dance, lots of physical comedy, and robust use of Cearley’s music – the “Lullaby” song and Puck singing of Titania’s love for an ass are just two of the ribald musical moments – director and cast keep the magic fizzing every minute. A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through June 28 at the 47th Street Theater. Get tickets online or call 212-279-4200.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1503250784][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0199267189][amazon template=iframe image&asin=6305622876][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00005O06K][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00007L4MV]