A Midsummer Night's Dream
Joanna Settle's lively production of Shakespeare's comedy is also greatly enhanced by Stew's music.
Staged on a winding, wooden catwalk that transects a coveside park in Rowayton, Connecticut (the show moves to Greenwich in July), Settle's highly physicalized rendition has a bit of the carnival midway about it. Players are constantly racing by, arms pumping, or slithering onstage lizardlike, or draping themselves from a convenient tree. At one point, the scorned Helena (a nicely homespun Gretchen Hall) tries to hurl herself over the park wall to elude what she perceives as her tormentors.
Perhaps only Stew -- the genius behind Passing Strange -- would have guessed that the blues would be just the right genre for Bottom (a hilariously over-the-top Ty Jones) to bemoan his discomfort at finding himself suddenly rendered asinine? (Costumer Ilona Somogyi gives him goggles, floppy burlap ears, and hoofed armlets for an on-the-spot makeover.) This donkey is so adorable that the "O, how I love thee!" lullabye delivered by Titania (the lush-voiced, lithe Doan Li) seems almost reasonable. In fact, it's worth braving rush-hour traffic just to hear him call out "This-BEH!" street-style or flop about like a fish on a hook in what is surely the most belaboredly acrobatic death scene ever devised.
In keeping with tradition, Li also plays Hippolyta, the conquered Amazonian queen unwillingly betrothed to Theseus, Duke of Athens (Mickey Solis, commanding both as worldly lord and as his spirit counterpart, Oberon). The pair's electrically charged connection brings out the play's throughline of love's mysterious fits, shifts, and starts. Stew provides the perfect sound effect for every instance in which a love potion smites an unsuspecting sleeper: a Barry White wah-wah chord.