by: JK Clarke
The neighborhoods bordering Times Square and the Broadway theaters have, of late, become so overrun with tourists and the businesses that cater to and/or prey on them that most locals would never consider patronizing them. So it’s a rather unexpected delight to come across a small professional theater company just off of Eighth Avenue (on West 47th), offering a first rate Shakespeare production. The brand new Masterworks Theater Company is staging just their second production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it’s a delight.
One of Shakespeare’s most revered comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an ideal inaugural season play, for it is a celebration of acting, imagination and personal transformation; it seems likely the Bard saw it as celebration of stage life. Though there are numerous storylines, the play’s central conflict is that Egeus, a nobleman, has promised his daughter, Hermia (delightful and expressive Sheria Irving) to Demetrius (Emilio Paul Tirado), whom she does not love. She loves Lysander (Reynaldo Piniella), and despite the law that says a father may kill a daughter who does not obey his nuptial demands she chooses to elope to the forest with her true love. She is betrayed by her friend Helena (Becca Ballenger), who tells Demetrius of the plan (because she loves him and wants to endear herself) and the two give chase. Meanwhile, to celebrate the nuptials of Theseus, Duke of Athens, The Mechanicals, a bumbling troupe of working class actors, convene to stage a performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, an Ovidian Romeo and Juliet-type story (calling back to the pervasive theme of forbidden love in this play). The story then jumps to deep in the forest where Oberon (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte), the Fairie King is upset with Titania (Jenny Strassburg), his Queen, and decides to punish her with a potion that will make her fall in love with the first beast she sees. He has also instructed his fairy servant, Puck (Nick Clearley)—who serves as both as master of ceremonies and chief mischief maker—to intervene in the love lives of the young Athenians (the eloped lovers and their chasers) they have observed in the forest. Naturally, Puck uses his love potion on the wrong couple and chaos ensues. He also mistakenly picks one of the young thespians as the target for the Queen’s adoration. As with all Shakespeare comedies, the confusion is resolved and the appropriate lovers are united in a grand feast.
Along the pathway of the kooky storylines, there is much mirth of an almost slapstick or vaudevillian variety, and that’s where the true test of the actors comes in. Director Tamilla Woodward has cast the play with great actors with a strong command of the language quite well, from Tirado’s nebbishy, but not pathetic Demetrius to the powerful Guilarte, whose Oberon is both dominant and benevolent. Clearley’s merry yet bemused Puck, jamming discordant on an electric ukulele, is a fun concierge to the proceedings. The Mechanics are a hoot: the proud Snout (Jack Herholdt); Bottom (Warren Jackson), humble and a great singer; and Kevin Cristaldi as the hilariously dopey Snug with a lion costume whose mane of plastic forks rivals that feline play over on Broadway. While the play is modern, the costuming (Dustin Cross) is inventive and diverse. The Athenians are tennis racket-bearing preppies and the fairy’s outfits are a non-ostentatious cross between yoga retreat wear and techno-hipster loft party. Especially unique is Titania’s elegant gold gown which splits up the middle with the material gathered in such a way that is unmistakably vulva-esque, proudly announcing her sexual agency.
Masterworks Theater is a welcome addition to the New York theater scene, most notably for its dedication to bringing professional productions of great and classic works of theater at an affordable price to students and young people who might not normally have the opportunity to see such pieces. If this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is any indicator of what’s to come, Masterworks will indeed be a vital member of the NYC small professional theater community. This Midsummer is transportive, as it’s meant to be, and makes for a wonderful evening escaping the madness of the outside world and enjoying the delightful hijinks and beautiful language on stage.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Through June 28 at the 47th Street Theater (304 W. 47th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.masterworkstheater.org
Photos: Russ Rowland