Regional Reviews: Greater New York State
A Midsummer Night's DreamCapital Repertory Theatre
This minor amending of the Beatle's adage propels director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill's approach to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opened this week at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. Part steampunk, part Woodstock, part Renaissance faire, the production's pop culture references travel from "Love Potion #9" to "Groove Is in the Heart" to a raucous hip-hop dance finale that–without invitation had audience members on their feet. And while the 2+ hours of misdirected ardor, backstage hijinks, and royal disputes sometimes feel like a mismatched canvas, this Dream is perpetually delightful, engaging, and fun.
Perhaps more than any of Shakespeare's other comedies, Midsummer is an interpretative playground. Awash with magic and enchantment, fantasy and fairies, the Dream opens itself up to reinvention with each production. Are the potions that make the lovers fall for each other jocular libations or dangerous hard drugs? And does its fickle take on courtship show the power or the ridiculousness of love?
Capital Rep's Dream is a decidedly frothy affair which definitively prioritizes the play's irreverent innuendo and eschews the darkness some have found in its forest. This Dream won't make you see the world in a new way, but it will send you home with a smile. In this production, it ultimately doesn't matter much whether it's Lysander who's in love with Hermia or Helena who's yearning for Demetrius at any particular moment. Instead, the fairy Puck's meddling betwixt the lovers' quarrels is the raison d'etre. Nimbly played with whimsy, joy, and a mischievous strategy, Kyle Garvin's Puck drugs the lovers to, ostensibly, change their affections. But once the lovers are dosed, so is the production, and so is the audience. The mayhem that ensues verges between the preposterous and the psychedelic. The disparate costumes and dialects somehow converge into one picture whose disarray becomes its cohesion when viewed through the lens of the mind-altering drugs that trigger the play's every turn.
Mancinelli-Cahill's other directorial flourish lies in the relationship between its fairy monarchs, Oberon and Titania. When Titania (Yvonne Perry) disappoints Oberon (Chauncy Thomas), Shakespeare punishes Titania by having Puck bewitch her to fall in love with the weaver, Bottom (Oliver Wadsworth), who has been transformed into an ass. Here, it is under Titania's orders that Puck drugs Oberon into falling for the donkey, giving the delightful Thomas ample time to croon and pine for the equid. This gender reversal disbalances the power dynamic and brings the play into our time as much as the contemporary pop music that speckles the evening.
In a play that argues that love is blind, the visual and aural overload of this Dream is sometimes so overwhelming that it dulls the senses instead of tickling them. Lysander is steadfastly and fully rendered by Ethan Botwick, but when he cavorts around the stage in swashbuckling quasi-pirate garb to the sound of the Talking Heads and Queen, the production's excesses become less midsummer mirth and more midnight mayhem. More restrained moments, such as the Rude Mechanicals hilarious Act V play within a play, rely instead on simple physical and vocal humor rendered by talented actors; these moments of clarity juxtapose nicely the spectacle of the rest of the production.
While some of the drugs of this dream might go to your head, they never make you too dizzy to enjoy its deliciously impish frolic. As the weather turns warm and Upstate New Yorkers finally dig out from winter's cold clutches, this Midsummer Night's Dream ushers in the season's respite with open arms.
A Midsummer Night's Dream runs through May 7, 2023, at Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 N. Pearl St, Albany NY. Tickets range from $27-62. For tickets and information, please call the box office 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday at 518-346-6204 or visit capitalrep.org.