Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, November, 1998
If you love Shakespeare then this is your lucky month! The Manic Stage began the onslaught, opening "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last Thursday. Williamstheatre, Mt. Greylock, and McCann weigh in this week with productions of "Twelfth Night", "Hamlet", and another "Midsummer" respectively later this week. McCann and Mt. Greylock are participating in Shakespeare & Company's 10th annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare in which high school productions of ten of Shakespeare's plays take the stage at BCC from November 19-22.
My first concern when I heard that the Manic Stage was going to mount Shakespeare was how they were going to fit all those actors and all that action into their tiny performance space. If you have never been to the Manic, their space, a former store front on North Adams' Main Street, is long and narrow. It is akin to wathcing theatre performed in a a train car. So I was relieved upon entering the theatre to see that Director Christopher J. Beaulieu had decided to rearrange the performance area and the audience seating to use more of the long side of the room and less of the narrow end. The arrangement was not ideal, but it did allow fthe energetic action to take place primarliy along the long side of the space, rather than in one narrow end.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a very energetic play. Four hopelessly confused lovers wandering the woods outside of Athens. A gaggle of fairies making their lives even more miserable. And a group of blue-collar workers struggling to prepare a "tragical comedy" for performance at the Duke's impending nuptials. Essentially three parallel plots wrapped in the fourth story of the Duke's wedding careen through the woods one midsummer night.
Beaulieu has chosen to double cast the show. The same actors who play the Duke Theseus and his bride Hippolyta (Bruce T. MacDonald and Barby Cardillo) play Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies. The four lovers - Hermia (Anne Undeland), Demetrius (Josh Granger), Helena (Betsy Ware), and Lysander (Lee Perry Collyer) - also play the fairies. Even Alexia Trova as Puck also appears in a minor servants role as Philostrate - although she must be heavily draped to cover her fairy costume and hair.
The plot is framed within the dream of a child (Elizabeth Windover) - a device that I liked more as the play moved forward. Windover does a good job of being present but not intrusive as the plot moves forward. Beaulieu has created one lovely moment in which she and Puck play together.
I loved Trova as Puck, although I wished either she or Beaulieu hadn't found it necessary to attempt a new spin on the line "I go, I go, swifter than the arrow from a Tartar's bow." Trova is spectacularly costumed and lit so that she literally glows with an unearthly violet aura. She becomes Puck in body, voice, and spirit.
The young actors playing the lovers seem to enjoy themselves thoroughly and bring a great deal of youthful energy to the stage. I especially enjoyed Undeland as Hermia. The only downside to casting such lithe and agile young people (some of whom are not yet out of high school) as the lovers was that they made the older actors look a great deal older than they actually are. MacDonald, who gave a masterful performance in the Manic's production of "Simpatico" last month, was hard pressed to keep up with Trova's Puck, who bounded and tubled through the role.
The "machanicals" were most entertaining. I adored Jennifer Johanos in both of her roles but was especially impressed with what she did as Robin Starvling the Tailor. This is a role of few lines, but Johanos made Starvling into a full blown character through her body language. The only Equity actor in the cast, she showed her stuff by being constantly "on" and in character. Paige Carter designed a terrific costume for her - filled with pins and measuring tapes with which Starvling busied himself on several occasions. Craig Lanoue burst into his own at the end when he got to portray the star cossed lover Thisbe in the play the laborers present at the Duke's wedding. Bret Bishoff as Nick Bottom, an ass of a man who is morphed into a real ass by Puck as the plot moves on, started off strong but was unable to sustain the character successfully to the end.
Despite a few bursts of glory, such as Trovia's Puck and Johanos' Robin Starvling, Carter's costumes were disappointing. Small details became unnecessarily annoying. I spent far to much time wanting to pull up Granger's trousers so the elastic of his underwear wouldn't show, put a slip on Ware, and rip the "Dockers" tag off of the slacks MacDonald wore as Theseus. Maybe it is just the theatre in my blood, but these tiny things can really destroy an illusion and break the audience's concentration.
While overall not a perfect production, this is certainly a highly enjoyable evening of theatre with lots of laughs - a fine way to introduce school-aged children to Shakespeare. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs through November 22 at the Manic Stage, 55 Main Street, North Adams, adjoining Zoie's Restraurant. Dinner theatre packages are available. North Adams residents "pay what you can" on Thursdays. Call 663-2323 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1998