by Michael Bracken
Can’t score tickets to see Shakespeare in the Park? No worries. Go to the Lower East Side and check out Shakespeare in the Parking Lot instead. Just stop by the car park at 114 Suffolk, behind the Clemente. You’ll see A Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s consistently entertaining and at times riotously funny.
Director Kathy Curtiss, who also conceived the production, keeps it moving smoothly. She knows how to get her cast to set up and deliver a series of laughs building on each other. Players enter and exit frequently but it’s never crowded or forced, physically or emotionally.
As written by Shakespeare, this rollicking farce takes place in and around Athens. But Curtiss makes the Lower East Side the center of this production’s universe. References to places like Thompkins Square Park and the Hamptons abound. Words like bougie and allusions to local features like the community garden pepper the script. It’s a credit to the actors and writer that twenty-first century expressions fit in so well next to those of the Bard.
A circus atmosphere is created prior to the show’s beginning, as cast members work the crowd on a unicycle and stilts. But it doesn’t take long to realize it’s not a circus: it’s a party. And what’s a party without dancing? Dance features prominently throughout, usually performed by Titania’s (Queen of the Fairies, played by Serena E. Miller) fairies in waiting. They prance about whenever the script calls for it, as well as between scenes. Dancers are relaxed yet precise; their movements seem organic. Choreography, by Jamilla Gordon and Tahj Pomarḗ is simple but delightful. Titania’s hippie-like attendants, sporting garlands, enjoy themselves as they help one scene melt into the next.
As the play begins, Lysander (Eddie Shields) and Hermia (Mary Linehan) are in love. Demetrius (Brad Frost) also loves Hermia, while Helena (Kathleen Simmonds) loves him. Things get a massive – but largely temporary – makeover in the course of night, thanks to Oberon, the king of the Fairies. He tells his right hand sprite, Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow, played by Drew Valins), to go among the flowers and gather a potion that, when applied to the eyes of someone sleeping, makes them fall in love with the first being they see upon waking.
And then there are Shakespeare’s rude mechanicals. They’d be right at home on the set of The Big Bang Theory. In this production they are presented as geeks and nerds who work for Google. Like the guys on Big Bang, they’re obsessed with popular entertainment of the Star Wars/Star Trek ilk. They rehearse a play they intend to perform at Theseus‘s (Zander Meisner) wedding. They happen to be rehearsing right by the location of Tatania’s chosen resting spot.
Oberon has Puck put the potion on the eyes of dormant Titania, with whom he’s feuding. He also instructs the sprite to put potion into the eyes of Demetrius, so that he will wake and love Helena. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, so when Lysander wakes and sees Helena, he becomes enamored of her. Puck subsequently renders Demetrius also in love with Helena, who thinks Demetrius and Lysander, and eventually Hermia, are playing a cruel joke on her.
Titania awakes to see Bottom, one of the amateur thespians, wearing, thanks to Puck, the head of an ass. She is immediately smitten and has her fairies in waiting attend to and pamper him. Jordan Feltner is very funny as Bottom, who adapts to his new situation without missing a beat. He knows a good thing when he sees one.
The play’s comic highpoint comes when the mechanicals perform their version of Pyramis and Thisby at Theseus’s wedding. Dressed in geeky finery that includes a healthy helping of aluminum foil, they’re babes in the woods. Earnest and clueless, they perform with deadpan humor and a heartfelt desire to please. Which they do.
Well-acted all round, this Midsummer Night’s Dream is a high-spirited romp that capitalizes cleverly on its location.
Through July 24th. Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, the Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Suffolk Street. Free. www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com. 2 hours, no intermission.
Photos: Remy except as noted