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Downtown’s Midsummer – A Banquet of Magical Moments

Downtown’s Midsummer – A Banquet of Magical Moments

A wise theatre junkie once said to me that A Midsummers Night’s Dream is a play that either “sings when it’s good” or “sinks easily when it’s not“. And this co-production of Food of Love and Third Rail Projects currently serving up some Shakespeare with some food and wine on the side, most magically and sweetly sings.  The Shakespearean text reading isn’t the deepest or most definitive by any means, but as directed and choreographed by the inventive Zach Morris, his immersive version of arguably one of Shakespeare’s best comedy is a lullaby of sweet kisses backed by some charming harmonica and the odd twang of a musical saw being played just right.

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Caroline Amos and Alex J. Gould. Photo by Chad Batka.

Midsummer – A Banquet is a celebration of magic and effervescence, where love and mischief floats and dances through the woods, with a multi-course meal served on the side. We are escorted into the sweet little french bistro purposefully named Cafe Fae, and given a feast of appetizers and wine (or something else, if you want to venture over to the bar) to get our taste buds enlivened. The atmosphere feels just right, quaint and pretty, even though I know in the back of my head this space on Broadway and 13th Street was just recently an indoor flea market selling necklaces and nick-nacks. But through crafty ingenuity by set designer Jason Simms (Urge for Going), subtle lighting design by Deborah Constantine (Little Women) and lovely original music and sound design by Sean Hagerty (Then She Fell), the space draws us into a fairy land of gentle wonder.  The costumes by Tyler M. Holland (Red Line, Battery Dance) vary from perfect to overly busy, but in the end, the joy is clear, the treats tasty, and the bow and arrow is aimed wisely.

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Charles Osborne, Lauren F. Walker, Caroline Amos, Adrienne Paquin, Alex J Gould and Joshua Gonzales. Photo by Chad Batka.

Waltzed in with style and grace by the royal Theseus, portrayed wisely by Ryan Wuestewald (Ghost Light), doing double duty as Oberon; and Hippolyta, proudly played by Victoria Rae Sook (Shake & Bake: Love’s Labour’s Lost) who naturally also portrays Titania, their pre-matrimonial festivities set the scene. The first atmospheric dance lingers just a bit too long, but when Midsummer: A Banquet finally gets to the main course, thrusting the four confused lovers; touchingly played by the lovely and feisty Caroline Amos (Romeo & Juliet) as Hermia (also Snug/Fairy), the energetic and convincing Joshua Gonzales (The Women From Space) as Demetrius (also Snout/Fairy), the utterly charming and handsome Alex J. Gould (The Woodsman) as Lysander (also Flute/Fairy), and the hilariously endearing Adrienne Paquin (The Comedy of Errors) as Helena (also Quince/Fairy), into the fairy filled woods over hill and over dale, the joy of the evening flickers brightly with delight.

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Charles Osborne and Caroline Amos, with audience. Photo by Chad Batka.

As you can see, this band of actors, who also are our lovely servers of a meal that is more of a bite then a feast, plays numerous roles throughout, flittering and flying back and forth between lovers and artists.  Their craftsmanship is never more proven when the four actors who were playing lovers are now playing actors (are you following me?), plus the very funny, somewhat over-the-top Charles Osborne (Shake & Bake: Love’s Labour’s Lost) as the King ham himself, Bottom (also Egeus/Fairy) parading forth with a series of spectacular big sighs. The crew bring a household of music that delights until the company is called together, as per the script. They transform themselves most magically and beautifully into that ridiculous band of traveling actors navigating  the dark misty woods for a rehearsal of a play about love, magic, a feisty wall, and a radiant full moon, dutifully brought forth by Lauren Walker (Charm) as Straveling (also Philostrate/Goodfellow). Walker also finds her way through the woods to cast a spell over us all when she steps forward and elevates into Robin Goodfellow, bringing forth a donkey head to mess with Sook’s fairy Queen’s adoration, and mixes up the lovers’ eyes and hearts, much to Wuestewald’s fairy King’s fury, all over the course of one mirthful summer evening.

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Ryan Wuestewald as Theseus, the King of the Fairies. Photo by Chad Batka.

Even though the meal was less dinner and more like a treat, the show parallels that notion slightly. Midsummer – A Banquet beautifully brings the lightness to the fireflies and the frolic to the feast, but never digs in deeper. I’ve always found A Midsummer Night’s Dream a bit of a tease for greater ideas with an over long ending, giving us the traditional wedding finale, and then play audience to itself as another whole play unfolds with the hilariously overdone actors.  It’s purposeful and silly in its portrayal, while also bringing a sweet tinge to the otherwise not so good champagne.  We join with the royal “please no epilogue”, wanting only the ending that was promised.  A kind word from Puck, a small wave and a bow, and then to bed, as they say. I left utterly intoxicated with the pleasantness of the magical evening, but still a bit hungry in the stomach and in the intellectual mind.

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Lauren Walker as Robin Goodfellow with the rest of the cast. Photo by Chad Batka.
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For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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