Review: Queer "Midsummer Night's Dream" Offers a Most Rare Vision
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican
Presented by The Seeing Place Theater via Zoom
August 29-30, 2020 [UPDATE: extended on YouTube through 9/5; get streaming tickets here.]
|L to R: Puck, Cobweb, First Fairy, Peaseblossom, Titania, Oberon. Courtesy The Seeing Place Theater|
In Shakespeare's comedy, Athenians Hermia (Ellinor DiLorenzo) and Lysander (Weronika Helena Wozniak) are in love, but Hermia's father, Egeus (Jon L. Peacock), has arranged for her to marry Demetrius (William Ketter) and appeals to Theseus (Brandon Walker), who is soon to marry Hippolyta (Laura Clare Browne), to help him to enforce his wishes (and uphold the patriarchal order from which they both derive authority). Hermia's friend Helena (Erin Cronican) meanwhile, remains in love with Demetrius, who left her for the arranged marriage. Hermia and Lysander flee to the forest, followed by Helena and Demetrius, where they encounter Puck (Jon L. Peacock)—one of the faeries ruled by Oberon (Brandon Walker) and Titania (Laura Clare Browne), who are having some relationship problems of their own—and some magical love juice. Puck also works some transformative magic on Bottom (Dan Mack), one of a group of artisan-class amateur actors often referred to as the Mechanicals. As one might expect from all of this, there are complications.
|L to R: Theseus, Lysander, Hippolyta, Egeus, Demetrius, Hermia. Courtesy The Seeing Place Theater|
The reading uses modern dress—Puck sports a particularly great outfit with a studded choker—and a subtle, minimalist score by Randi Driscoll. The emphasis on a play's language inherent to a reading, and even more so a virtual reading, works well with a text from a time when playgoers were often referred to as auditors, and the dialogue provides enough description that modern editors look to it for implied stage directions. But The Seeing Place also makes canny use of the specific presentational possibilities of Zoom. Characters are helpfully identified in the upper corner of the screen while they speak, for instance, and the actors play against backgrounds ranging from a pub to what we'll call a fantasy forest to Grecian ruins. At one point, when Hermia is hiding, her screen is cleverly left black.
|Lto R: Bottom, Quince, Snug, Flute, Snout, Starveling. Courtesy The Seeing Place Theater|
The Seeing Place employs some suggestive doubling of roles (Theseus/Oberon, Hippolyta/Titania, Egeus/Puck), and interestingly plays the moment when Titania realizes what Oberon has done to her regarding Bottom as a shared joke between a close couple. Walker and Browne make effective use of space during their earlier debate of the "changeling" boy, leaning into their computers' cameras and playing off of their fixed perspective. Walker also creates some memorable moments in Oberon's gloating reaction to getting the changeling boy and the comedy of Theseus choosing the entertainment for his nuptial celebrations and dancing to the Mechanicals' bergamask afterwards. Cronican brings a real (and funny) humanity to Quince both as a put-upon stage manager and then as a Prologue who reacts in frustration to her mistakes as she makes them but then gets increasingly gets carried away by and carries off the latter portion of her introduction of Pyramus and Thisbe. (Walker's Oberon too becomes a kind of exasperated stage manager with Puck after it becomes clear that Puck made some mistakes with their magic.) DiLorenzo and Cronican suffuse the conflict between Hermia and Helena with energy and emotion, and DiLorenzo crafts a distinctive Snout. Mack as Bottom does some very good bad verse recitation, and Ketter fashions a sometimes haughty Demetrius. Thesus's hound (uncredited) also turns in a fine performance.
|Pyramus and Moonshine. Courtesy The Seeing Place Theater|
At the same time that The Seeing Place's reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream draws attention to the need for action on serious, life-and-death issues, it is characterized throughout by its sense of fun, from the aforementioned playful use of filters to hearing boundary-blurring snatches of laughter from the "onstage" audience during the Mechanicals' performance. Like "Bottom's Dream," The Seeing Place provides a fresh and fantastical perspective on an established experience—even if everyone does still get married in the end.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards