Midsummer: A Banquet — Though It Be But Little, It Is Fierce
Food of Love and Third Rail Projects' scrappy iteration of A Midsummer Night's Dream is more "light fare" than "banquet" — especially when it comes to the mid-show meal you'd be well-advised to supplement beforehand. And yet, everything from the spirited ensemble of actors doing double and triple duty to the napkin-wrapped peach they elevate to a dessert with the name "Love Bundle" has an organic charm that makes this romp in the forest a perfectly imperfect night in New York City.
Entering the space at Café Fae (former home and studio of expressionist painter Willem de Kooning, gussied up by set designer Jason Simms) feels like wandering into a repurposed speakeasy with just a tiny strip of performance space in the middle of the dining patrons. That doesn't stop director and choreographer Zach Morris from sending his actors flying across tables and flopping on the ground inches away from metal pipes. Midsummer's quartet of lovers get raucous — and spatial limitations be damned, these paramours are going to take their passions to the mat if it (literally) kills them.
For your Midsummer brushup, here are the CliffsNotes: Hermia (Caroline Amos) loves Lysander (Alex J. Gould), but is intended to marry Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales). Helena (Adrienne Paquin) loves Demetrius, but Demetrius is committed to marrying Hermia. Puck (Lauren F. Walker), per the direction of fairy king Oberon (Ryan Wuestewald), sprays magic love potion on the wrong people. Bucolic bedlam ensues. In a drug-induced stupor, Demetrius and Lysander fight for the affections of Hermia, played by Paquin with delightfully awkward bemusement. Hermia then fends off the "little-but-fierce" Helena in a Jersey Shore-level brawl that Paquin and Amos seem to relish. I can't say this production will make you care whether the pair of tepid romances ultimately sort themselves out, but you'll be thoroughly entertained while they do.
Antics are by far this Midsummer's strongest suit, so naturally the show hits its stride when the Rude Mechanicals come out to play — particularly with Charles Osborne hijacking the ensemble as a Jack McFarland-inspired Bottom. To celebrate the wedding of Theseus (Wuestewald) and Hippolyta (Victoria Rae Sook), this famously untalented theater troupe puts on a play about tragic lovers Pyramus and Thisbe — a total outlier of a plot point whose only connection to the rest of the story is Bottom, who, before his tour de force as Pyramus, is magically turned into a donkey for fairy queen Titania (Sook) to comically fall in love with. The story is essentially over before the Rude Mechanicals even take the stage. But the sight gags, fake deaths, and freshly inspired wall jokes they serve up are sweeter than the meringue-on-sticks they have you grab on your way out the door. So consider that your third course and you'll walk away satisfied.