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EST Marathon 2008 Series C

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Flux Theatre's adventurous production of Shakespeare's oft-produced comedy offers rewards for all types of audience members.

By New York City
Michael Davis and Nitya Vidyasagar
in A Midsummer Night's Dream
(© Isaiah Tanenbaum)
Michael Davis and Nitya Vidyasagar
in A Midsummer Night's Dream
(© Isaiah Tanenbaum)
Both immediately accessible and thematically adventurous, The Flux Theatre Ensemble's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, at the West End Theater, rewards audiences of all degrees of familiarity with the play. Guided by August Schulenburg's supremely intelligent direction, the entertaining production is clear and easy to comprehend even for the uninitiated, but it's also driven by fresh insights that will captivate those who are well-acquainted with Shakespeare's oft-performed comedy.

The "foolish mortals" at the center of the story -- Hermia and Lysander (Amy Fitts and Jake Alexander), who are reciprocally in love with each other when the play begins, and Demetrius and Helena (Brian Pracht and Candice Holdorf), who are not -- are depicted here as identifiably down-to-earth contemporary characters. The engaging and capable actors have been directed to deliver their lines conversationally, which results in more natural performances than are often seen in productions of this play, and which gives the foursome's interactions an immediacy that maximizes our identification with them and with their confusions about love and desire.

In sharp dramatic contrast to the four lovers, the supernatural characters in the woods are rendered with more heightened, stylized performances, and the production effectively evokes their magical environment with simple but sensationally effective bits of theatrical business. For example, Oberon (Michael Davis) is at one point lit so that his shadow appears to grow and dominate the stage; while the long train of Titania's (Kira Blaskovich) gown spills across the stage floor to signify water. The production may be limited by the usual budgetary constraints of off-off Broadway, but it's certainly not limited by a deficit of creativity or imagination.

The ensemble's spirit of thoughtful exploration can be keenly felt throughout the show. Indeed, while some of the production's more curious choices don't work, others turn out to be wonderful, most notably the casting of actresses in the traditionally male roles of Puck (Nitya Vidyasagar), the mischievous fairy, and Bottom (Christina Shipp), the braggart actor who is transformed into a donkey. (In the latter instance, we're not watching a female play a male character. The production has re-imagined the character's gender.)

Finally, the production gives fresh thematic emphasis to the play-within-the-play that comprises most of the final act. Even though we may already know that theater brings a transforming magic to our mortal world, it's a pleasure to have a production as delightful as this one to remind us.


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