Monday, June 13, 2011

Heart and Soul: The Anarchist Society of Shakespeareans Present A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Written by William Shakespeare
Director - Ron Lacey
Stage Manager - Lena Davis
Sets & Costumes - Sharon Lacey
Lighting - Jon Taie

Theseus/Oberon - Ron Lacey
Hippolyta/Titania - Marty Seeger
Philostrate/Puck - Mike Carr
Peaseblossom - Mindy Klenoff
Mote - Corina Bucora
Mustardseed - Leslie Drescher
Cobweb - Susan Rubin
Egeus - Rob Noyes
Hermia - Katie DiMarca
Lysander - Brad Smith
Helena - Mary Ferrara
Demetrius - Stephen Bagg
Peter Quince - Jon Taie
Bottom - Tom Beyer
Flute - Lou Lim
Starveling - Dennis Stevens
Snug - Gilly Rosenthol

A Midsummer Nights Dream is probably one of William Shakespeare's most produced shows, as I have seen or heard of at least a dozen productions over the last several years. It is no secret that it is definitely a popular one for that matter, as the piece itself can be interpreted in so many different ways.

A new company, the Anarchist Society of Shakespeareans recently put up a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as their first show. They presented it at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square. As I am a huge fan of Shakespearen shows and I had yet to actually review one, I decided to check it out. A Midsummer Nights Dream, written by the one and only bard himself, William Shakespeare, focuses on the  events surrounding the marriage of  Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and the Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. These include the adventures of four young lovers and a band of amateur actors, who are manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the nearby forest. Through the use of magic and other devices, the characters are changed and reverted back to their original states, making them question the possibility of what happened or what they thought happened. Love and relationships are tested and despite various happenings, everything works out in the end.

Immediately coming in, I noticed the space was creating some challenges. The space was not completely unusable and not necessarily a bad place to put up a show, but it did seem rather cramped.  Though, in this town, free to cheap theatre space is hard to come by. No fault of the group, as it did create a more intimate space when effectively used. Also, since being in the middle of Harvard Square, the doors and windows were open throughout the production, allowing outside noises to travel in, which was severely distracting. As it is with any production, things will happen as it was no fault of the company's.

Ron Lacey's direction and vision is a strong effort, as having a pre-show with music from the 60s and dressing his actors in the garb of the same era. It had potential to create a world of the particular era, but it never goes beyond its initial presentations, ie the music and costumes. Its almost as though he could've spent more time creating the world, as we cannot always rely on the text to do all the work for us. Granted, I give him kudos for the effort of working with the text and having his actors be comfortable in this world. As he starred in it as well as Theseus and Oberon, his time did seem split amongst acting and directing duties, but not enough to really take too much away from the show. He does each well, but there always could’ve been a tad more effort. Some staging was also questionable as well, as we were in a function room; the seats were right behind each other on a flat floor. Anytime there was action below our sight lines, we had to adjust. The minimal vision did almost make the production at times feel very one dimensional. Again, it was the space working against the show.

As for the sets and lighting, there was not much there to actually constitute a world. Sharon Lacey and Jon Taie take on this space with their vision, but it falls short as an actual theatrical production. Again, in the space where the production takes place, lighting from the ceiling and Christmas lights were used. It was a nice touch, but again, to give more to the lighting would’ve been nice. Nothing substantial was needed, but if this world was meant to be in the 60s, more distinct lighting could have been used. Also, the set, dressed with flowers did give a nice feel as well as the use of chairs, but they were not enough to bring us into the characters' environment. They could’ve gone a bit further and threw in some more pieces, wall hangings or the like. The ideas were good and they played, but the lack of other additions made the show feel very flat at times. However, the costumes were nice, as they were very period. Dressed as hippies, partiers or staunch uptight types, each costume helped established each character well, adding more flavor.

The performances were solid, as they actors did their work and really became familiar with the text. Shakespeare is considered difficult in many circles and this group does a good job of holding their own. No one really stood out as a performer, but some real great moments were created during several points of the production. Some performances were stronger than others, and the weaker performances were the result of rushing the text and moments that were meant to be savored. Also, some tried for a laugh which worked some times but other times took too much away from the moment. As the show is comedy, much of the humor comes from the text and potential physical action so it really depends on the choices that are made. Mike Carr's Puck is wicked and playful enough, but his moments in his more memorable speeches are too quick. The text presents opportunities for so much interpretation, but a few disjointed moments were present throughout the show. The four lovers, Brad Smith, Mary Ferrara, Stephen Bagg and Katie Dimarca, were played well, however their relationships between them at times seemed forced and chemistry was not as strong as it could’ve been. Each did well in establishing their own individuality, but it was not fully developed when it came to how they interacted with each other. The players, Jon Taie, Tom Beyer, Lou Lim, Dennis Stevens, and Gilly Rosenthal, are strong as well, as they again do a good job in establishing who they are as well as their own personalities. They of course pull off their show within a show with flying colors, something that is always a hit with audiences. All in all, everyone, each part, does a good job and brings together a show filled with heart and soul. They all seem to feel at ease in their roles.

The show itself presented many good moments. It is a challenge to present such a well-known show in such a space, but I think for what they did it was a good starting foundation and template for future productions, taking in, of course, consideration of the size and to use that to their advantage. With some whimsical and fantastical moments, this particular interpretation of Midsummer could go even further and create an even stronger world. They have the makings of a great company as they just need a few things that can be used to create a stronger theatrical experience. As it is their first production, I hope to see more shows and continue to see their growth as a new promising Shakespearean group.

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