Some updates for fans of the American Shakespeare Center. They have extended the dates for the BlkFrsTV streaming of their 4 shows from the Renaissance Season (Much Ado About Nothing, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and A King and No King). If you thought that you missed them because you were obsessed with cleaning the winter sweater closet out, you can still tune in. Better yet, starting tomorrow (4/23/2020), they have educational webinars for all ages. Sorry, we are working, so we will miss out on those. But, you are looking for extra credit check out their website.
Meanwhile the touring company came home when schools shut down. Usually, they would be preparing to open in late April for about six weeks at the Blackfriar Theatre in Staunton, VA (rather than any school auditorium from coast to coast, which they have been doing since September). When they arrived in town, they jumped on stage and video taped their productions. Their first BlkFrsTV streaming is their rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they pack into 90 minutes, for Midsummer 90.
To brush up your Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in and around Athens. The play opens with lovers in various states of repose and repulsion. Theseus (Chris Bellinger) and Hippolyta (Andrea Bellamore) are to be married. Hermia (Sara Linares) and Demetrius (Michael Moret) are betrothed. But Hermia has fallen in love with Lynsander (Andrew Tung). Meanwhile, Helena’s (Mia Wurgaft) love for Demetrius is unrequited by him
To sort all this love out, Shakespeare sends them off into the forest where fairies of all ranks rule. Also, into the woods a group of local laborers go to rehearse a play which they plans to perform at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Of course, spells and magic will ensue, enamor, delude, and restore the order to society. Certainly, this bunchy of characters cannot master their lives. For that magic, and the magic of this production, we have Puck (Madeline Calais). If for no other reason to make a donation to stream Midsummer 90, it is to see Madeline’s magic!
The beauty of Shakespeare’s language is in the poetry. Puck takes this to it’s logical, and mystical, conclusion by singing many of her lines. If lined up by height and size, she might be cast as the smallest of the lot. But, her presence on stage is greater than reality. Love needs such greatness, for physics alone cannot make it happen.
Puck comes out of the audience, a half-size resinating guitar in her hand, dance in her step, and tune on her lips. All will go wrong. All will go right. In the end, everyone will be pared up correctly.
Now, Puck is not the only character to carry a tune. There are some good dolls in this show. And, Theseus/Oberon plays a mean saxophone here and there.
But, the side-show of the towns folk-players trying to rehearse and perform the Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisby strikes just the right cord. Bottom (Topher Embry) is just the Pyramus and Ass we want. And, Francis Flute (Alexis Baigue) is just the Thisby we need. Isn’t that what love is about? And, they have a fun time with hilarious body language, such as Snout/Wall (Kenneth Hopkins, Jr.) trying to come up with the correct hand gesture to make the chink through which Pyramus and Thisby can woo. And, I won’t try to explain what that ball of yarn rolling around the final scene is. You just have to see it.
But, to contrast the lyrical language and songs of the play, Flute, trying to recite Thisby’s lines sums it up ridiculously by enunciating each syllable such that we cannot understand what the lines are:
Wipe those tears of laugher, now.
As delightful as the production was (including the pre-show rendition of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young’s, Love the One You’re With), I will pass on one word of audience forgiveness regarding the sound quality of certain scenes, which come off as somewhat shrill. Rather than criticism, this is a point of production phenomenon that does not translate well from live performers who are used to reciting their lines without amplification, when by Covid19 circumstances, they perform in a more-or-less empty hall with area microphones. Unlike most modern productions, the performers, using Shakespeare’s technology, have only their voices to project. Given that the Blackfriar’s Theatre is a beautiful, oak box, it is a great sounding board. But, without the mass, contours, and clothing of an audience, the sound can get quite loud in robust scenes. This is difficult to smooth out in post-production, and at home, watching on a computer with add-on speakers. Oh, a minor point. But don’t miss out seeing Madeline for a few moments of startle.