Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2001.
After all of the big hype – posters, billboards, that ubiquitous photo of Titania caressing an ass – it is not surprising that I return from opening night to tell you that this is a great big production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The trouble is that A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t really a great big show. As I staggered homeward after 3.5 hours of fairy frolics on the Main Stage at The Mount – one of the only theatres to measure its stage area in acres rather than square feet – I felt as if I too had spent 24 hours in the woods outside of Athens…well, outside of Lenox at any rate.
Not that there isn’t a lot to look at and laugh at and marvel at in Tina Packer’s monumental, farewell-to-The-Mount production. From the moment the “mechanicals” roar on to the stage in pick-up trucks, with Bottom’s bottom clearly in evidence until he hikes up his jeans, to deliver an hilarious, custom written prologue, you want to watch and listen closely lest you miss the next joke. Packer makes sure that you get ALL of the Elizabethan humor in this highly physical production. What between this show, The Comedy of Errors and The Compleat Works of Wllm. Shkspr. (Abridged) I doubt that there is a kneepad left to be had in Berkshire County. The cast of Comedy of Errors alone must go through a gross a week.
This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has everything anyone could want, and then some. Acres of fairies, hilarious mechanicals, distraught lovers, Bottom turning into an ass, Puck going faster than an arrow from a tartar’s bow, etc. The cast is a veritable Who’s Who from the first 24 years of Shakespeare & Company. It’s a wonder anyone is left to man the phones with all the company staff on stage. And Jonathan Epstein is the best Bottom EVER! I still start chuckling at random moments when the image of him lying dead in a toga with plumber’s plungers struck all over his body. This is hard to explain to people at the office…
Everyone acquits themselves very well, and it is easier to name the performers I thought were ill-suited to their roles than the ones who were spot on. Basically, it was those lead fairies that I felt were weak. Jason Asprey was wild and wooly as Puck, but he didn’t fill my heart with mirth or wonder. Allyn Burrows was rather, well, fey, as Oberon. I don’t know why it should bother me that a fairy behaves like a fairy, but it did. And Tod Randolph, who I usually like very well, was a leaden Titania.
But there are so many different plots and aspects to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and this is such a BIG production that it really didn’t matter if Burrows, Asprey and Randolph weren’t the greatest Oberon, Puck, and Titania I had ever seen. In fact, one thing that struck me as the hours went by was just how vast and dreamlike this play really is. I had long ago understood that about the lovers’ plot, but I hadn’t really caught that the very disjointedness of the show has a dreamlike quality. Only in a dream would you have fairies and the court of Athens and star-crossed lovers lost in the forest and a band of tradesmen attempting to stage a tragedy all in one place together.
“The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
— A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, scene I
This is precisely what Shakespeare has done in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, given shape, name, and place to airy nothing. At the end of the play, when the whole forest behind The Mount comes alive with more fairies wearing less clothing than you have ever seen before, dreams take flesh and reality falls by the wayside. It is interesting to compare this attempt at recreating the dream world in the pseudo-reality that is the theatre with Eric Hill’s production of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play currently running at the BTF’s Unicorn Theatre through August 4.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on;
And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
—The Tempest, Act IV, scene i
Shakespeare & Company has a production of The Tempest running August 4-September 1 at their new Founder’s Theatre at 70 Kemble Street. I am looking forward to continuing this summer’s exploration of dreams brought to life there…
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001