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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Lord, what fools these mortals be. — Puck

Midsummer Night's Dream
Brian Cade (Demetrius) and Rebecca Mozo (Hermia)
(Photo : Samuel Allen)
Let the purists once again look askance and take umbrage at the liberties taken with the full text and the more traditional texture of A Midsummer Night's Dream now being presented by Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey in the intimately scaled Greek amphitheater on the campus of St. Elizabeth College. I'm more inclined to consider the reaction of my five-year old neighbor Catherine who remarked at the end, "That was amazing."

This extremely fast moving and comically staged 90-minute version of Shakespeare's most fantastical homage to folklore and magic is clearly to be enjoyed best al fresco. While food and refreshments are available, family picnics on the lawn are advised and encouraged. That the play still retains its lyrical loveliness in the light of its brevity is commendable thanks to the direction and staging by Cameron Watson.

Watson, who directed I Captured the Castle last Christmas for STNJ, keeps his young and beguiling cast moving so fast that one hardly has time to to more than to keep track of the romantically motivated characters as they scamper and scheme within a fairy-haunted forest. Their antics are as freshly conceived as is the whimsical setting in which they have been consigned by designer Adam Miecielica. The forest is beautifully evoked by a backdrop of multi-colored streamers. These hang from a huge sprawling tree whose extended limbs serve as a proscenium across the playing area. On one end, a cave has been carved out the tree's trunk.

Just as inclined to make their entrances and exits on the slightly raised and painted paths that crisscross on the lawn, the players are also wont to sprint up and down the stone steps of the amphitheater. Watson's vision of fairydom is as delightfully contemporary and original as are the charming mix-and-don't-match look of their fairies' costumes created by Kara Harmon. How nice it is to see their costumes illumined like lightning bugs in the dark. Suitably elegant attire is reserved for the royal court at Athens.

Don't expect to see any of the dark side of the story revealed as this version is intent on keeping our focus on the principal characters as they fall in and out of love. At first our attention is drawn, as it should be, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (a feisty Nitya Vidyasagar) who is about to be wed to Theseus, Duke of Athens (Josh Carpenter). Keeping to the tradition in playing those roles, Vidyasager doubles as Titania, the proud Fairy Queen and Carpenter doubles with equal high-born attitude and regality as Oberon, the jealous Fairy King.)

As you may guess, the nuptials don't proceed without a hitch. Ready to cause consternation and create more than a bit of havoc, are the by-love-possessed Athenian youths Lysander (Jack Moran, a real trend-setter in his bright yellow shorts and orange sneakers) and Demetrius (Brian Cade) who is out to prove that ill-fitting jeans can also make the man. They both claim to love Hermia (Rebecca Mozo,) who prefers Lysander. Mozo has no trouble turning heads particularly in her modishly-short colorfully-patterned frock.

It is good to report that the young lovers are well paired and sounded at ease with the rhymed couplets and even more so with their body language that defined their youthful passions as it did of their shared immaturity. Things are only destined to get more complicated when Hermia and Lysander take refuge in a forest wherein they are challenged by a wonderfully confrontational Helena (Emily Kunkel,) who still loves Demetrius, who loves. . .well, you know. And what is an on-stage pond for except as an excuse for a terrific in-the-water cat-fight between Helena and Hermia that also invites a less ferocious and more comically staged splashing duel between Lysander and Demetrius.

It's also into the woods and through the streamers for Shakespeare's most adored amateur actors, here re-considered as recruits from the local labor union. They meet to rehearse in a fashion "The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby." I am finding it hard to recall a more affably hilarious Bottom than the one personified by Robert Clohessy who makes the most of his imposing countenance and self-aggrandizing speechifying, not to mention his most endearing transmutation into an ass. The big challenge for any actor playing the dramatically-inept Bottom is to keep us laughing, notably as Thisby whose protracted death is well, seriously protracted.

As Pyramus, James Russell gives drag more physical dimension than we bargained for. John Hickok (who doubles formidably as Hermia's stubborn father Egeus) earns his prescribed laughs as Quince, the nominal director of the "lamentable comedy&extremely fast moving and comically staged 90-minute version of Shakespeare'most fantastical homage to folklore and magic is clearly to be enjoyed best al frescoquot; within the comedy.

As anyone knows who attends theater out of doors, unexpected sounds do occasionally interfere. A plane flying low overhead was no problem for the company that immediately went into a freeze and holding it until the roar disappeared. The explosions of not so distant fireworks (a week early?) was no hindrance to the prankish doings of Seamus Mulcahy as the hobgoblin Puck who, in addition to dispensing into unsuspecting ears the magical juice of a flower, also employed his space-age water gun with willy-nilly aplomb.

Luckily, we don't have to be overly concerned with the depths of character analysis since the play's interest seems primarily to deal with incidents and coincidences, and especially in this sprightly production, everyone's ability to keep the grass from growing under foot.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Cameron Watson

Cast: Brain Cade (Demetrius), Connor Carew (Tom Snout), Josh Carpenter (Theseus/Oberon), Robert Clohessy (Nick Bottom), Zack Fineblum (Robin Starling), John Hickok (Peter Quince/Egeus), Emily Kunkel (Helena), Jack Moran (Lysander), Rebecca Mozo (Hermia), Seamus Mulcahy (Puck/Philostrate), James Russell (Francis Flute), Stewart Schneck (Snug), Nitya Vidyasagar (Hippolyta/Titania)
Scenic Design: Adam Miecielica
Costume Design: Kara Harmon
Lighting Design: Tony Galaska
Sound Design: Steven L. Beckel
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, in the amphitheatre on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road (off Madison Avenue/Rt. 124 in Morris Township, N.J.
(973) 408 - 5600
Performances: Tuesdays through Sundays at 8:15 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 4:30 PM.
Tickets ($27.00 - $33.00 and $17.00 for ages 17 and under. $10.00 student rush tickets are offered 30 minutes prior to the performance.
From 6/22/11; opening 6/25/11; closing 7/31/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/25/11
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