Friday, August 6, 2010

A Magical, Marvelous Midsummer Night’s Dream from Curious Frog

By Georgina Young-Ellis

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Shakespeare favorite for many theater-goers and, when done right, is among the bard’s funniest and most charming stories. Fortunately, Curious Frog Theater Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Scavengers gets it right and then some. July 31st in Astoria Park, under the trees, with no stage and almost no set, a sign announces a “Greek Scavenger Hunt” and actors come into the performance space wearing tee shirts that sport the names, in Greek, of a fraternity or sorority. We understand that they are college kids about to compete in a scavenger hunt, a brilliant premise on behalf of director RenĂ©e Rodriguez.

The frat boys and sorority sisters open the show shouting decidedly non-Shakespearean cheers to get themselves pumped for the competition. One of the girls, Hermia, is in love with frat boy Lysander, who adores her, though Hermia’s father forbids the union. He has chosen for her Demetrius, whom sorority sis’ Helena loves, though Demetrius only has eyes for Hermia. Hermia and Lysander run away into the woods, followed by Demetrius, followed by Helena. When fairies enchant both the men to fall in love with Helena, they become enemies, and the women, once fast friends, become rivals. There follows a knock-down, drag-out, wildly funny fight, the likes of which I’ve never seen in any production of Midsummer. All four of the lovers are fully committed physically and vocally to the high emotions they experience. Brandi Bravo as Helena is a real standout, teetering around the park on giant platform shoes in a mini-skirt and sunglasses – the ultimate girly-girl, her big eyes and expressive face drawing the audience’s attention like a magnet. Alex Gould as Demetrius is the perfect ditzy, dopey match for her.

Then there are the “Mechanicals,” a group of dimwits who are rehearsing for a play to put on for the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Athens. Bottom, an egotistical idiot who wants to perform every part in the “play” that his group is preparing for the Duke, is portrayed by Brent Yoshikami as a smarmy jock in tiny yellow shorts and black knee socks, abusing an obnoxious whistle. He is pure magic on stage, an actor of incredible comic abilities. Tai Verley, playing Petra Quince, the much put upon director, never loses her commitment to playing straight woman to Bottom, her character every second invested in the seriousness of their endeavor. A brilliant choice for Snug is Sora Baek, whose character plays the “lion” in the play within a play. Snug is afraid to speak; therefore Ms. Baek’s heavily accented English lends the character an attribute of adorable, frightened innocence. Flute, played by Manuel de la Portilla, is forced to play a girl in the performance for the Duke. Flute is an hysterically bad actor who at the end of the Mechanicals’ little drama suddenly commits to his part in earnest, causing the lovers, looking on, to weep tears of sorrow, while we, the real audience, weep tears of laughter.

Krystine Summers, as the mischievous fairy Puck, is so quick and agile she convinces us that she could “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” as her character claims. She expresses herself with wry wit, her lines delivered with natural ease. Somewhat weaker verbally, though not physically, are Edie Monroy and Michael Kennen Miller who play the king and queen of the fairies, Titania and Oberon, respectively. Though both beautiful of face and body, I feel that, at times, they fail to do justice to the exquisite poetry that their parts require. During one of Titania’s principle speeches, truly some of the most beautiful verses that Shakespeare ever wrote, her physical gymnastics diminish the power of the words. The only other weak point in the play is Matt Casteel as Egeus, Hermia’s father, who opens the story with a monologue and, in this first performance, doesn’t seem to yet know his lines. But the play soars thereafter and keeps going at break-neck comic speed until the two hours seem to fly by.

All in all, there is magnificent attention to detail in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Scavengers, thanks again to Ms. Rodriquez and her vision. The show will be in Astoria again Sunday, August 8th at the Astoria Water Walk. It then runs in parks throughout the city until September 5th; the schedule can be found at Take the kids. They will love it; you will love it; it is simply not to be missed!