Review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: a hipster romance in the parking lot.
- OnStage New York Critic
You probably know the story of Shakespearian A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Hermia is in love with Lysander but her farther insists that she marry Demetrius. Helena, Hermia’s friend and partner in crime, adores Demetrius who can’t stand her. Then there is a troupe of amateur actors preparing a play for the wedding of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta. There is the king of fairies Oberon, his queen Titania, and fairies. Everybody’s paths cross in the woods where fairies mess with humans.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, presented by The Drilling CompaNY, sets the story in modern day New York City, which seems very appropriate when taking into the account the specifics of the venue. Loyal to the tradition started in 1995, the production takes place in a literal parking lot which is provided by The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center on lower East Side.
As always, all the seats are free, there is no lottery, no line. The set consists of two small stages atop plastic buckets. Plastic chairs for the audience are arranged in a U shape. Lighting design features the same bare functionality: a few strings of bulbs above the action and two halogen work lights upfront illuminate the action as it gets darker outside. But don’t be fooled by the guerrilla style of the production. A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Parking Lot offers some top-notch talent directed by inventive Kathy Curtiss.
The magical Shakespearian forest is transformed into the city jungle of East Village. Lysander (Eddie Shields) and Hermia (Mary Linehan) are two hipsters, Demetrius (Bradford Frost) and Helena (Kathleen Simmonds) represent a wealthier youth. The royals Theseus (Zander Meisner) and Hippolyta (Zoe Anastassiou) are transformed into rock-musicians. The troupe of actors hold day jobs at Google. And the fairies are still fairies because there is always a place for magic in the city.
Although the reinvented social roles don’t quite fit into a believable and organic symbiosis of the urban habitat, this rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still very enjoyable. The inclusion of modern slang and New York locations into Shakespearian text takes you by surprise every time and actually helps keep focus on the ornate Jacobean poetry. This adaptation of the text adds more spice to this comedy and presents a great example of the easiness and playfulness with which classics can be presented.
This “easiness” is not easy to achieve, the challenge for the director is to keep viewers engaged and hopefully laughing yet not pandering to the broad audience. Kathy Curtiss is doing a great job creating an atmosphere of “magical urbanism”, where the scent of purple love flowers is mixed with the smell of fresh asphalt, and inhabiting it with timely and funny characters.
But sometimes she misses the mark by highlighting characters that don’t bring much to the table. By giving each fairy a name and a distinct personality, the director honors their acting talent but steals the attention from more important issues. While the side stories can be funny showstoppers, there is a risk of overpowering the main action, much in the spirit of Nick Bottom who wants to play all of the roles in the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in Space, and presents each of them with great passion. The performances of secondary characters needed to be fine-tuned and the background chatter lowered a bit, but strong professional actors in the leading roles saved the day.
The ensemble of young lovers, Lysander (Eddie Shields), Hermia (Mary Linehan), Demetrius (Bradford Frost) and Helena (Kathleen Simmonds) won my heart with Simmonds being my favorite star of the evening. These four nailed the “love quadrangle” sequences playfully. It seems like the passions burning inside made them sweat, not the heat of a midsummer’s New York night. The choreography of their movement conveyed as much information as words, making their dialogs look¬¬¬ like a dance.
Enjoy the last two performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced by Shakespeare in the Parking Lot on Friday, July 22nd and Saturday, July 23st, both at 8pm. Parking Lot is located behind The Clemente, 114 Norfolk Street (E. side of Norfolk St. between Delancey and Rivington) All admission is free. Seats are available on a first come first served basis.
Don’t worry if you missed Midsummer Night’s Dream, the second production of the season, The Merchant of Venice, will be running from July 28th to August 13th. For more information and schedule visit www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com and www.drillingcompany.org