Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Production: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Theater: The Hartford Stage
Written by: William Shakespeare
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Between day and night, when day is beginning to lower- I take pause in night’s occupation to partake in the premiere performance of The Hartford Stage’s current production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream” – and after seeing it – I profess to heaven above this production is “stellar”- yet at this very moment in time- I am now literally floating on air with a case of star struck-itis – and why not? I’ve had every other malady this year. Yet a veritable “Who’s Who” of CT and NYC theater world folk is in attendance – Actresses Johanna Morrison and Anastasia Barzee to the left of me, Director Darko Tresnjak, Michael Stotts and Theresa MacNaughton to the right, and Here I am, stuck in the middle with you!
I – Howard Steven Frydman, is among the stars! Many I now call friends- I even have their email addresses!! At times I feel like “Izzy” from “Crossing Delaney Street” when she says “I have Isaac Bashevis Singer in my Rolodex”. Yes – and speaking of “Stars” at the Hartford Stage- ( Setting Howard’s Wayback Machine) – it was March of 1981, still in my 20’s, I had the opportunity to invite my father, Jack Max Frydman to join me in seeing the Hartford Stage’s production of “The Undiscovered Country”. I recall it being cold, and those who arrived early before the “doors” opened were huddled in the “Stage’s” front vestibule trying to keep warm, when my father openly stated, “look there’s a bum coming in”! I looked, indeed there was a elderly bearded man, draped in a grey overflowing coat with an old ragged knapsack hung over his back coming thru the doors. I quickly stated, “dad that’s no bum that’s Dr. Jackson” – being a “Guiding Light” fan I knew this “TV star”- otherwise known as the great actor Stefan Schnabel. Unable to find the actors entrance Mr. Schnabel had moseyed through the oblivious throng making his way to the theaters entrance and me- the only one to take note of this now “soap celebrity”. Briefly I got to introduce myself and let him know “he was my number one fan” and throughout the production smile inwardly that I had met greatness that day- and it wouldn’t be the last. Thank you Hartford Stage and now on to more greatness and stars- the Darko Tresnjak directed – “A Midsummers Night’s Dream”!
My friends, let me emphatically state, this is one glorious production, let me further add this is a “one of a kind, not to be missed” Shakespearean event- the last time I said those words it was after seeing The Hartford Stage’s “Cymbeline – and that indeed was one for the ages! Now it’s your turn to see “Bard” Greatness on Stage”. “Midsummer” is the one that is the template for so many a tale i.e.-“LA Story” starring Steve Martin or instead of a denatured donkey- ( I’ll get to the donkey tale in a bit) how about TV’s “Endora” on “Bewitched” with her weekly enchantments- “Durwood I don’t like the way you gloat, – So I’m turning you into a billy goat”! You get the gist! As with many Shakespeare’s plays, the story often revolves around mistaken identities, miss-crossed lovers- such as last year’s Hartford Stages production of “Comedy of Errors” about mixed up twins- even more mixed up twins can be found in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”- I’m sure Mr. S. would have enjoyed Disney’s “Parent Trap” and duel Hayley Mills. But I digress- there are no mixed up twins here – just merry mixups, young love, inept actors and Bewitching spells cast in the name of love- oh how romantic-and as they say- “The play is the thing and all of us are merely players!
For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s tale or have never seen an episode of “Bewitched”-
“A Midsummers Night’s Dream” is a romantic prose intermingled with comedy- here it’s basically four tasty play treats in one – love at first sight, at second sight, love helped with magical enchantments, a frolicking all male farce-athon- and folks please look out for a mischievous fairy – “Puck” and one comedic enchanted donkey named “Bottom” – eeyore, eeyore!! Fantasy and reality are magically intertwined. Tale 1- we are introduced to Theseus, (Esau Pritchett) Duke of Athens, who is preparing a four day festival in honor of his upcoming marriage to Hippolyta, (Scarlet Strallen) Queen of the Amazons. Tale 2 – the mixed up lovers- four Athenian kids, Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius ( Jenny Leona, Tom Pecinka, Fedna Laure Jacquet, Damian Jermaine Thompson) who find “Beach Blanket Bingo” in the enchanted world of the fairies; Tale 3 – “The Mechanicals” – a Marx Brother-esque group of various craftsmen, ( Including Robert Hannon Davis as the Gardener and John Lavelle as Bottom) who in honor of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding comedically tell the tragic tale of “Pyramis and Thisbe” and finally, Tale 4 – the outlying woods, the home of the fairies, ruled by Oberon, the fairy king, and Titania, his queen, who are currently estranged – bickering over how to raise Titania’s found boy.
As mentioned about being star struck, and after witnessing this production, SO WILL YOU!- being star struck that is!
The actors – solid performances from each and every member of the cast- they bring Shakespeare’s MidSummer to full bloom. I can still hear that booming voice of an immense acting talent – Mr. Esau Pritchett- what an amazing actor. Scarlet Strallen as Hippolyta/Titania – loved how she quickly transformed from the Queen A. to Queen T. In fact, it was my seat mate, Anastasia Barzee who kept pointing out to me the amazing costumes, designed by Joshua Pearson, especially the white dress worn by Scarlet in the second act – me thinks Anastasia already knows what she would like for a Christmas Gift Mr. Pearson.
Up next – major kudos to the one and only Robert Hannon Davis in the duel roles of “Egeus” woebegone papa of Hermia and homespun playwright Peter Quince- Robert Davis is “sensational” btw! And now two actors who literally “stole the show”- firstly, Fedna Laure Jacquet as “Helena” – Fedna you reminded me of a female “Steve Urkle” which is a good thing- loved the oversized glasses, wonderful comic timing-you are an amazing actress. Finally, John Lavelle, the role of “Bottom” was made for you and visa versa! You are incredible in this performance. One of the many reasons to see this “Midsummer” is to see Mr. Lavelle, one minute he is an overacting thespian channeling James Cagney and William Shatner, the next a love worn long eared Donkey – the bottom line – “we are swinging on a star- cause we’re better off than we are” for seeing you perform! Folks I told you it was a star studded night!!
Lastly, you know when something is lovingly crafted- thank you Darko, plain and simply- this production of William Shakespeare’s “Midsummer” is simply – pure poetry in motion. I was totally captivated, as already stated- I sat literally on the edge of my seat – I swear I didn’t want to miss a single nuance of the story or miss a beat of the extraordinary Shakespearean dialogue. There is such a richness in this production from the acting, indelible characters, costumes, and scenic design. Yes its Shakespeare and you are gonna love it!! I have mentioned it before- a glorious renaissance has taken place at the Hartford Stage, once known as a haven for mostly Tennessee Williams, I now so look forward to each new “season of The Hartford Stage”. Thank heaven for the ARTS. Thank heaven for the H-ART Ford Stage!
Tickets for the Hartford Stage production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (860) 527-5151 or by visiting http://www.hartfordstage.org. The production runs September 7th through October 8th. Weeknight and evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturdays, Sundays and select weekdays at 2 p.m.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com