Review: Shakespeare-Inspired Fairycakes Labors to Charm
Douglas Carter Beane's new star-studded comedy plays at the Greenwich House Theater.
It's a rare joy to see several brilliant comic actors of the theater on one stage — even rarer on a small off-Broadway stage like the Greenwich House Theater's. Douglas Carter Beane has gathered a bunch of them together for Fairycakes, his zany riff on Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Among them are Arnie Burton, Ann Harada, Jackie Hoffman, Mo Rocca, and the incomparable Julie Halston, along with young Broadway stars like Kristolyn Lloyd and Jason Tam. The stage bursts with talent, as well as a kaleidoscope of colorful costuming, humorous flights of fancy held up on fairy wings, and a set (by Shoko Kambara and Adam Crinson) that looks Shakespearean in its simplicity.
So it's all the more disappointing that Fairycakes can't keep itself aloft for more than a few moments at a time because of the ponderous weight of Beane's script and direction. The play invites us into the magical woodland world of Midsummer and intertwines it with fairy-tale characters like Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The silly mishmash of storylines is the sort of thing we've gotten accustomed to thanks to the DC and Marvel franchises, and Beane might have made his preposterous collision of plots work too except for his decision to burden his script (and his actors) with a monotonous deluge of awkward rhyming couplets that not only fail to land their humor but also bloat the play into an unwieldy two and a half hours (with intermission), when 90 minutes of modern-day prose would have sufficed.
At the center of the play are the denizens of Midsummer's fairy world, including the fairy king Oberon (Burton), the fairy queen Titania (Halston), and their four children — Peaseblossum (Lloyd), Moth (Hoffman), Cobweb (Z Infante), and Mustardseed (Harada). The goatish imp Puck (Chris Myers) is there, too, trying to woo Peaseblossum, whom he calls Fairycakes. Oberon and Titania have been bickering about the fairy king's infidelities and are on the verge of divorce, while their kids have been moonlighting in other fairytales: Moth has been hanging out with Peter Pan, Cobweb is Cinderella's fairy godmother, and so on.
Goddess of the dawn Aurora (Kuhoo Verma) gets the children nervous with a warning that if Oberon and Titania divorce, the four children will die (such breaches of love are inimical to the enchantment of this world). But the hunky, bare-chested Puck can't let anything happen to Peaseblossum, so he comes up with an idea to make everyone in this weird fairy world fall in love by means of a magic flower. As in Midsummer, unexpected couplings occur. But here we find Geppetto (Rocca) falling for Cinderella's Prince Viktor (Tam), and Moth flying into the arms of the pirate Dirk Deadeye (also Burton). But then he leaves her and falls for Geppetto, who gets dumped by Prince Viktor. Will Dirk share custody of Geppetto's wooden tap-dancing son, Pinocchio (Sabatino Cruz)? We may never know.
This summary just scratches the surface of the kooky twists and turns that Beane's play takes us through till we finally arrive at the end of this exhausting, loopy entanglement of lovers. That's not to say that there's no fun along the way. Burton and Halston, who do much of the play's heavy comedic lifting, regularly hit their marks. Halston, in particular, gives a knee-slapping performance as Queen Elizabeth I, who longs to lose her virginity with a "changeling" (Jamen Nanthakumar). Burton and Rocca provide much-needed Act 2 humor with their tale-as-old-as-time love story between toy maker and pirate. And we let out a sigh of relief whenever Hoffman, with her brash, round-mouthed exclamations, comes onstage in her orange fairy costume and wiggling fairy antennae on her head, and we know that a good laugh is coming.
Bedecked in Gregory Gale's fabulous costumes (Halston's Titania get-up is an explosion of color and whimsy), each member of the cast has shining moments where the script pops with a quippy rhyme. But I couldn't help wondering as all those other drab couplets dropped lifeless to the floor how much funnier this could have been if Beane had written in his own voice and rather than in one superficially resembling Shakespeare's. (The play ends tritely with a verbatim recitation of Midsummer's epilogue.) Fairycakes could have been the campy triumph of the season. Alas, it may now be its most lamentable comedy.