7.28.2007

A pointless review

Why pointless, you ask? Because there's next to zero chance anyone reading this is going to have the opportunity to see what it is I'm reviewing. Why bother? Only for the sheer, unadulterated fuck of it. Last night I went to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at Boston Commons. The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company does free Shakespeare in the park each year, and sadly it's hit or miss. Last year's Taming of the Shrew, for instance, was excellent. But the year before that they butchered Hamlet. Much Ado About Nothing was decent when they performed it three years ago, and prior to that their Macbeth was, well, a mess. Solid performances were swamped by a desire to model the production after Evita, of all things. In any case, the last show is tomorrow, so unless anyone reading this is going to be in town tomorrow and doesn't have plans, what I'm writing will be of little use.

I certainly trust a comedy in their hands more than I do a tragedy. Which is odd, actually, because being funny is harder, and it can be particularly challenging to make a modern audience laugh at Shakespearean humor. They almost always field a talented cast. Anyone who doesn't do so in Boston should be fucking shot. There are four cities in this country where actors are mainly trained. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. And of the four, Boston is the one with the least work for actors. Which means that there are tons of people with theater degrees who can't find a stage. Talented people.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't give much credit to Commonwealth Shakespeare for finding a solid cast every year. And that's really the only way that they're consistent.

They love to play around with settings when they do Shakespeare. So do I, for that matter, but they tend to do it clumsily Their Macbeth took place in Argentina. But they still said "Scotland." To their credit, they fixed that when they set Taming of the Shrew in Boston ("they said "Bostonia" where "Italia" was in the script), but they didn't do anything about references to geography. Hamlet was set in some sort of anachronistic dystopia, which I'm a fan of in several implementations, but the way they handled it was a tonal mess. Also, they castrated classic monologues to go for the cheap laugh, but that's neither here nor there.

As best as I could tell, this play took place at a summer camp. The set consisted of astroturf and a weather balloon suspended in the upstage left corner (which, for non theater people, means to the back of the stage and on your left Also, I'll get to the weather balloon later). There also seemed to be a bit of a hill, but it was ill-defined. For scenes with the fairies,

A Midsummer Night's Dream is the play among the Bard's works that is the most about magic. If you don't get the fairies right, you didn't get the play right. Ok, so yes we're taught that in art there's no right or wrong way to do something. The reality is that while there's no right way, there are an infinite number of wrong ways. One of them (in this case is to design them as the demented offspring of PT Barnum and Shigeru Miyamoto (this joke requires one to have played at least one of the later Legend of Zelda games) And they're all laden with baloons... which signify.... magic? Oh wait! The weather balloon! They mean to say that there's magic in the air! HOLY SHIT And whenever they came on scene, they were greeted by trance music, to which they performed a drunkenly choreographed ensemble interpretive dance. THIS IS BLOWING MY MIND

I will grant, however, that in a different production of the play, trance music might be appropriate. In fact to set the entire play within a rave is hardly stretching the imagination, because if there was ever a play one could apply raver drugs to, it's this one. But it didn't mesh in this production at all.

The one exception to my distaste for the fairies was Puck, who was done up like a chromatic Pan, and was awesome.

Oh that's right. I didn't quite explain why I thought that it might have taken place at a summer camp, which now that I think of it doesn't seem all too solid. The Rude Mechanicals showed up dressed as Boy Scouts, with the director as the Scoutmaster. They perform the play within a play, which is quite clearly a parody of Shakespeare's own Romeo and Juliet, and upon further investigation may contain a thinly veiled reference to a glory hole (the hole in the wall through which the lovers "whispered to each other" and later kissed through). Of course, one of the parts in a play within a play is female, while all of the players are male. The implication of homosexuality within the Boy Scouts is, of course, a new joke and is a bottomless well of hilarity. The play within a play is humorously terrible, if one remembers the text of the show, and once again the fact that they are Boy Scouts is brilliant satire.

On the other hand, if one set aside the tonal mess that the director and producers made of the play, the performance was quite good. The four main characters, Demetrius, Lysander, Helena, and Hermia, bounced off of each other brilliantly at their best, and at their weakest it was still adequate. The Rude Mechanicals, if one set aside their attire, were fucking brilliant, though I have to say that having sat through what was more or less an abortion of production values, seeing them do something that was intentionally awful was all the more hilarious.

Like I said, you will find no shortage of competent performers in Boston. If everyone working as an actor in this town dropped dead there would still be fierce competition. Of course, there is always the peril of a director trying to put something on the stage that will appeal to the masses at the expense of, say, anyone who knows a damn thing about theater.

I will say that I was entertained, but only because I was with friends who were mocking it along with me. Also, we had had booze. But a much better time was found at Flat Top Johnny's, a pool hall/bar/restaurant in Cambridge. Once again, I doubt this information is of any use, but there is a reason it's been rated Best in Boston for every year in recent memory.

6 comments:

  1. Maybe there's just not enough magic in my soul but I always hated MSND, I can't even bring myself to type the words out loud. It all seems so pointless where so many of those works attributed to 'shakespeare' (join me in a conspiracy theory?) are so vibrant and so relevant in unimaginable ways today.

    Having said that, the year I studied it at school I had absolutely no respect for my teacher, the kinda guy who wears an unconvincing multicoloured toupé, too much aftershave and pretends not to notice half the class have hidden beneath the tables, so my lack of respect for the play may have had something to do with him.

    Homosexuality and scouting, you say. I very much doubt it.

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  2. I am so glad I'm not in the theater, it sound way too complicated for me.

    I loved the only presentation of MSND I ever saw though. It was some time ago.

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  3. Mimey: Hah! No conspirator I, unless we're putting the steel to Caesar. I think that the inconsistencies are better attributed to collaboration from the members of the Globe Theater company, but not collaboration to the extent of authorship credit.

    The play itself I like quite a lot--who can say no to a bunch of teenagers going into the forest, accidentally getting ripped on shrooms/ecstasy... I mean "magic," and going all crazy--I just despise people who sacrifice the source material on the altar of the cheap laugh.

    Cooper: Nah. Hang around theater folk and you soak it up. Especially if you hang around opinionated theater folk =P

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  4. LOVE Shakespeare, Othello is my fave, but Much Ado is rather awesome too ;)

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  5. My favorites are Macbeth and Hamlet. I also like the Twelfth Night.

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