Posted by: strugglesome | March 19, 2011

Into The Woods: Lantern Theater Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.  But in a mid-sized city which can often feel like a small town, repetition is often unavoidable. In fact, its part of what makes this city such a fertile place in which to make art, because works resonate off of each other, communicate, converse. However, saturation points do exist, and conversations come to a natural ending point. And should you try to keep the party going past that point, well, that’s when things get awkward, and people start making excuses about having to get home to watch the news.

So before discussing the Lantern Theater Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, its important to note that there are 19 other comedies penned by William Shakespeare, 20, if you count Troilus and Cressida (which I personally find hilarious). 19 other complete pieces filled with romantic entanglements, cases of mistaken identity, sexual innuendo and, in one case, a bear. 19 other plays that could be produced and performed. And yet, somehow, for whatever reason, everyone just wants to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which is a great play, obviously, it’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s got fairies and blue-collar laborers and drugs, what’s not to love, really, but there is only so many times you can see it before the story is completely obscured by memories of every other production.  19 other plays, folks. Please do one of them. Even Two Gentlemen of Verona. Even Cymbeline. I will take Pericles, Prince of Tyre, for the love of God. Mix it up, people,variety is the spice of life.

And so, given the fact that only people who haven’t seen this play died before Shakespeare wrote it (or not, if reincarnation is your thing), I don’t have to waste any time with plot summary, and I can delve straight into the marrow or lack thereof, of the Lantern Theater Company’s messy and muddled A Midsummer Night’s Dream. First of all, the staging is particularly confusing. The audience is placed on two sides of the action, allowing the stage to insert itself into the audience like a slice of pie and maximizing the entrance and exit capacities for the space. This in and of itself is fine, and Charles McMahon’s direction does a decent job at having the cast of 11 actors play from all angles. But while Shakespeare is successful with or without a concept, but this production doesn’t seem to have decided exactly where or when or why it is, and no where is that reflected as strongly as in the design. Daniel Perelstein’s sound design is its sole success, creating a lovely originally composed musical through line that unifies the piece despite it’s supremely scattered nature. The set is so perplexing that it feels like the actors are being forced to run around some sort of Ancient Greek meets Stargate SG1 themed obstacle course. Meghan Jones’ set includes two sets of stairs, one simple painted grey, the other in fake stone shape, but the disparity between the two is confusing, did they run out of whatever they used to make one set of the stairs look like Fred Flintstone’s house?  Why have three halves of arches floating in space? What is the significance of the mixture of grey and white strips of curtains haunting the stage and hanging from the bizarre pentagram style business suspended from the ceiling? There are a lot of questions here. And they aren’t being answered or ameliorated by the lighting design, a sloppy badly focused affair created by Drew Billiau that leaves half the play in darkness, tints everyone green, and throws gobos around like they are going out of style.

And while all of these things are at the very least irritating, the costumes by Mary Folino are straight up confounding. In keeping with the sci-fi angle, Theseus and Hippolyta (Charlie DelMarcelle and Joanna Liao) start the play fencing (fight direction from J. Alex Cordaro) with pirate boots and the kinds of outfits that populated the city of New Caprica. Then out comes Hermia (Charlotte Ford) and Demetrius (Bradley Wrenn) led by disapproving father Egeus (David Blatt, who is far better in his doubled turn as a sweetly bumbling Peter Quince). Hermia and Helena (Lee Ann Etzold) are garbed in hideously bland tea length skirts with awkward jacket-bolero combos in shades that wash out both lovely actresses but do match the general greyness of the set. Demetrius and Lysander (David Sweeny) match the girls in tones, but are cursed with half-hearted attempts at togas and ill-advised hair-styles. The mechanicals are all taking part in some sort of horrible hat parade, the worst offender being the brassy, overwrought and abrasive Benjamin Lloyd as Nick Bottom. But all of this is nothing compared to the insanity of the fairies costumes. When you think elven kingdom, do you think of pleather robes and Mayan fertility goddess headdresses? No? Well, you will now. Look, I miss Firefly as much as the next nerd, but this tribute to its wardrobe department is not the way to get it back on the air.

If the design feels largely thrown together and half-baked, then in contrast the acting feels rather overdone. Despite a widely talented cast, every actor seems to be inhabiting their own private space on the stage, never really interacting. Given how physical this production is, it’s amazing to see such a scarcity of real human contact and connection. While there are standout performers; Dave Johnson is a hilariously creepy and animalistic Puck who somehow balances physical work with dry humor, Liao’s Titania/Hippolyta channels C.S. Lewis’ White Witch with startling power and precision, Ford’s Hermia and Etzold’s Helena are adorable, for the most part the performances feel dialed in, and who can blame them? At 2 hours and 40 minutes the piece is riddled with dead air and bad timing, and if I were up there I would be tempted to tune out as well. Simply put, though, if the actors aren’t going to listen to each other, there is no real incentive for the audience to do so either. And it’s not a great sign when working with such rich text when the most relaxed, organic and enjoyable moments of the piece are those in which the cast is mugging and improving new lines. So instead of a piece that points fingers at all humanities funniest foibles and underlines the absurdity of love, we have a lengthy slog that chews up and spits out Shakespeare’s play like gum, and doesn’t look particularly good while doing so. By the time we hit the play within a play we are so exhausted that we, like the four lovers, long for a good nap. I’d suggest the forest, but it’s very crowded this time of year.

The Lantern Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until the 17th of April. Tickets are available here.

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