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Into the woods again with Puck everlasting

By Brian Levinson

It's hard to put up a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream without including at least a little bit of prancing. After all, ten of the characters are playful woodland sprites, there's plenty of sing-song poetry, and the lines are filled with references to the rites of summer. Many productions have turned the play into a veritable prance-fest, giving the audience a syrupy romantic fantasy while ignoring the play's romantic tension and broad physical comedy.

COURTESY YALE REPERTORY THEATER
Lovers, fairies, and Drama students gyre and gimbol in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'

Fortunately, the new Rep production, starring members of the Drama School's graduating acting class and directed by Christopher Grabowski, DRA '89, avoids this trap. Instead, it invests every genre that Shakespeare touches with a joyful physicality, putting the actors through a creative, esoteric range of movement. Nearly every scene is an acrobatic explosion, from Puck's somersaulting enchantments to Helena's dogged pursuit of the reluctant Demetrius. Given license to frolic in Kris Stone's, DRA '98, gorgeous set, and clothed in Jenny C. Fulton's, DRA '98, colorful modern costumes, the actors make the most of their opportunities. Although the line delivery isn't always perfect, the physical brilliance usually makes up for it. As a play, the new Midsummer Night's Dream isn't anything wonderful; as a visual spectacle, it's a delight.

Unless you skipped 10th-grade English class every day for an entire semester, you're probably familiar with the plot. Demetrius (Josh Foldy, DRA '98, for some performances, Kyle Rivers, DRA '98, for others) and Lysander (Johnny Sparks, DRA '98) love Hermia (Tessa Auberjonois, DRA '98/Vivian Keh, DRA '98); Hermia loves Lysander; Helena (Magaly Colimon, DRA '98/Kimberly Ross, DRA '98) loves Demetrius; Puck (C.S. Lee, DRA '98) loves to screw up their relationships. Lee is the standout. He invests Puck with not only the usual mischievousness, but also with a ninja-like sense of grace. His mugging never grows tiresome--he and the regal Oberon (Kes Khemu, DRA '98) have excellent chemistry--they play off each other more effectively and consistently than any other pair of characters in the play.

As Bottom, the donkey-headed workman and would-be actor, Another World veteran Eric Scott Gould, DRA '98 also turns in a fine performance. Delivering his lines with a goofy earnestness, he milks his comic role for all it's worth. His ability to get the audience to laugh at Shakespeare's archaic puns and malapropisms is no small feat, and his scenes in the ass's head are at once hilarious and ethereal. Grabowski and the cast work hard to please the groundling--every scene with the low-rent theater troupe is good, and the cleverly costumed Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play is as funny as it has ever been.

Unfortunately, the romance falls flat. While Colimon's childish Helena is both funny and sympathetic, none of the other lovers match her vivacious performance. As Hermia, Auberjonois turns up the histrionics to an uncomfortable level. Sparks's swaggering Lysander and Foldy's David Hyde Pierce-ian Demetrius aren't terrible, but they aren't terribly captivating, either--the actors just don't have the same handle on the complex verbiage as they do the frenetic physicality. But their mastery of the physicality usually rescues them. In spite of its shortcomings, the scene in which Puck's enchantment causes both Demetrius and Lysander to fall in love with Helena is highly entertaining and fun to watch; in the course of a 10 minute scene, Lysander unwraps Hermia from his torso as if he were uncoiling a boa constrictor, the men hop after Helena on their knees, and Helena sends the men reeling with a couple of well-placed smacks.

The production's greatest triumph, though, is Stone's breathtaking set. Colored with rich blues and greens, it has the dark, foreboding grandeur of a Rousseau painting. It's an enchanted forest of the imagination, where illuminated brass pipes replace trees and a host of moving umbrellas stands in for the overhanging canopy of leaves. The characters run, roll, and jump over the numerous inclined planes, climb up the pipes, play on the metal swing, and sneak through the trap door. Fairies and humans pop up over ridges, bizarre sounds fill the air, and there are even live musicians (a guitarist and a flautist) who play creepy, haunting music. Although the fairies' singing is god-awful, it doesn't really matter. The forest of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a neat place to be, even if it does have its flaws.

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