Sunday, June 26, 2011


Some things are improved outdoors: dining (al fresco), painting (Impressionists en plein air) and theater. For the latter, witness the inane, yet exuberant, romp that celebrates the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's tenth anniversary of its outdoor stage in the Greek amphitheater on the campus of the college of St. Elizabeth.

On opening night (notwithstanding the roar of two airplanes, three trains and fireworks going off somewhere to the west), A Midsummer Night's Dream proved to be the almost perfect play to be performed under starry skies. One of the Bard’s funniest and one of his most accessible plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream features loads of conflict, a plethora of physical and verbal humor, and side-splitting performances to show that “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

But although the acting is superb, the set a delight of hanging colorful Spanish Moss-type streamers and intersecting forest paths, and the lighting atmospheric, the production is almost sunk by costumes that make it difficult for the audience to differentiate between the fairies and the mortals, thus robbing the production of that feeling of otherworldliness so necessary to the mood, not to mention the plot.

That plot in itself is ludicrous, driven by a tyrannical father, his daughter and her beau who escape to the dark forest, unrequited love, the misapplication of love potions that results in chaos—on the part of both mortals and fairies—until order is restored, three couples are wed and the rude mechanicals (read: common workmen) get to put on their play to celebrate the event.

STNJ_Midsummer_DSC_0586The play's poetry is glorious and very funny. As he pokes rude fun at what today would be a community theater production, Shakespeare has a grand time with "inside" theater jokes (there's been quite a bit of that if you've read my reviews for this season), much to our merriment—and, I suspect, his.

The talented cast does a fine job, with many of them taking on multiple roles. Josh Carpenter is commanding as Theseus, Duke of Athens, and equally as petulant as Oberon, the fairy king, who when he doesn't get what he wants has a mega-tantrum and throws everything into flux. Tiny Nitya Vidyasagar is rather too diminutive to project Hyppolyta's majesty, but she's tender and very funny as Titania when she strokes the head of the ass into which Bottom the weaver has been transformed. (Above: Robert Clohessy as Nick Bottom, James Russell as Francis Flute, Conner Carew as Snout, John Hickok as Peter Quince and Zach Fineblum as Starveling. Photo: ©Samuel Allen)

STNJ_Midsummer_DSC_0358The two sets of lovers are appropriately goofy, the better to be bewitched during the night in the dark forest. Rebecca Mozo (Hermia) and Jack Moran (her boyfriend Lysander), and Emily Kunkel (Helena) and the object of her unrequited love, Brian Cade (Demetrius), give their characters just the right comic touch, especially in a scene where the two boys roll around on stage while the girls tussle in a real pond, getting gloriously wet in the process. That Kunkel is tall and Mozo a peanut makes their exchange about height all the funnier. And as Puck, Seamus Mulcahy scampers and climbs around the stage like a circus acrobat as he carries out Oberon's missions and then has to right his mistakes. (Left: Brian Cade as Demetrius pursues his true love Hermia, played by Rebecca Mozo.  Photo: ©Samuel Allen)

STNJ_Midsummer_DSC_0632But the play's true comedic heart lies in the workmen who have come into the forest to get away from civilization to rehearse their play, which they hope to perform at the Duke's wedding the following day. John Hickock's Peter Quince tries mightily to control his rag-tag band, especially the obnoxious Nick Bottom, played with a great South Boston accent by Robert Clohessy, whether he's "auditioning" for every part in the play or whinnying with delight at the ministrations of Titania and her fairy attendants. The rustic company is rounded out by a very funny James Russell who, as Francis Flute, gets to play a delectable Thisbe complete with false breasts and red high heels; Connor Carew as Tom Snout, James Russell as Francis Flute and Stewart Schneck as Snug the Joiner deliver their silly lines with an aplomb appropriate to the seriousness with which they approach their efforts. (Above: Robert Clohessy as Nick Bottom, Conner Carew as Snout and James Russell as Francis Flute. Photo: ©Samuel Allen)

Director Cameron Watson keeps the action swirling around onstage, up and down the amphitheater's steps, so that the 90 minutes seem to fly by.

As for the aforementioned costumes, the duds provided by Kara Harmon are the one fly in the ointment. The fairies are dressed like homeless waifs; there is absolutely nothing ethereal about them. Puck resembles an escapee from The Little Rascals flicks. The Athenian youths look like punks, with the men in saggy shorts or tight jeans, motorcycle boots and garish sneakers; one wonders, who dressed these folks? The rustics are, however, clad in uniforms and clothing appropriate to lower class working men. The problems with the attire make it difficult for someone unfamiliar with the play (like children) to sort out who's who, which should occur at first glance. Don't let anyone tell you that costumes are not as important as the acting and scenery; this aspect of the production is living proof.

So, should you go to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at St. Elizabeth's Greek amphitheater? Of course, you should, because other than the costumes, the production provides further evidence that the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is a real treasure, one worth taking your children to see and inculcate in them a love of Shakespeare. . . and the theater!

A Midsummer Night's Dream will be performed through July 31, Tuesdays through Sundays at 8:15 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 4:30 PM in the amphitheater on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road (off Madison Avenue/Rte. 124) in Morris Township. Bring a chair and a picnic and make a real evening of it. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.408.5600 or visit