No More Yielding Than a Dream Hot
- Midsummer Night's Dream
- by William Shakespeare
- Adapted by Ian Gould, dramaturg
- Folding Chair Classical Theatre
- May 5 - June 4, 2011
Spare set, costumes, and lighting have long been staples of mountings of Shakespeare's plays, ever since Shakespeare first mounted them. Ever wondered why characters often talk at length about what their surroundings look like, or about offstage action? It's not just because Shakespeare thought it was pretty - the characters are actively painting a picture for the audience, who has come to hear the play performed. Perhaps none of the plays in Shakespeare's canon has so benefited from/suffered from/been affected by the advent of modern stagecraft and, well, modern glitter than A Midsummer Night's Dream. The magic can be presented to us in the form of lighting, sound cues, makeup effects, projections, spandex, ribbons, and, yes, glitter. Whether this has been a change for better or worse, it's often refreshing to see shows stripped down, even a show so reliant on magic.
Folding Chair Classical Theater's production of Midsummer is just such a spare production: the Access Theater's space is wide open with no exits or entrances, and no lighting - the bulbs in the ceiling are all anyone gets. Costuming is spare, as actors appear in their pajamas, adding pieces here and there from four coatracks that are sometimes used as setpieces. This is Folding Chair's ethos, to "see how evocative and clear [they] can be with just actors on a bare stage" and to focus "on plot, character, and language, rather than on spectacle and social/political agendas." Director Marcus Geduld has certainly lived up to simplicity in his staging, but the show may have benefited had stagecraft and any strong interpretation of the play itself not been replaced with a detrimental gimmick: the role assignments change every night.
Each of the six actors involved in the show has rehearsed a number of roles, and which roles they are to play for any given performance are drawn at random by audience members. The cast acquits itself well, and while there are no weak links among the six there are standouts. Andy Kirtland's Theseus was grounded and stately, his Oberon capable of a supernatural gravitas. Justin Gallo underwent the biggest transformations between characters, his spritely, energetic, cartoony Puck contrasting his weary Demetrius. Again, the cast is uniformly funny and engaging, but there's not much more to say about their performances because, honestly, they don't seem to be the point. What's more, I've only seen one possible iteration of the show, and anything I write may not be applicable to readers who may see this show later. This production focuses on the novelty of getting through the whole play when no one knew for sure who they were going to interpret at the start; that is to say, the show's gimmick runs out before the show even begins, and after that it's just about successfully getting through the play, which may as well have been any other play. The focus is on the fact that any actor could play any combination of any of the few characters they've rehearsed, and the consequence is that each of those characters is undeveloped, broad and shallow. It's possible that over the course of the run the actors will continue to find nuance in their favorite roles, but even then it's unlikely they'll find their characters the way an actor dedicated to definitely playing certain roles for every performance will over a show's rehearsal and run, from that character's inner life to that character's interactions with other characters as interpreted by the other cast members.
What's worst about the randomly assigned cast is that the only people who can actually fully appreciate it are the actors in the show; unless the idea is for audience members to come back again and again, the roles-drawn-from-a-hat thing may as well be a ruse. Knowing the script, the actors can have fun with their navigation around the difficulties of their double-castings, but it makes for unclear storytelling - when Gallo has to jump between Puck and Demetrius, I find it amusing because I'm a writer for PlayShakespeare, but the middle-school aged girls seated in front of me fell into confused whispering. Folding Chair's mission statement does not preclude exploration of characters and themes, and it would also seem to imply that what it deems unnecessary baggage should not be replaced with different baggage.
Granted, the charming cast does seem to be having a blast, but it's not the best way for an audience to experience the play.
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