The production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which opened at the Loeb last night is a crude attempt at a play unequaled in ripeness of language and plain good heart in Shakespeare or English. The show is as disasterous as misdirection can make it, which is to say that it is still a fair evening's entertainment.
Daniel Chumley designed the set, so it is he who must be flayed first. He has built a false stage over the real one, and tilted his creation at a 25 degree angle. Actors arrive and depart on long ramps which curve off into the dark. The whole affair suggests a complicated highway interchange.
The effects of his creation are several. Actresses in long gowns (there are many) have difficulty walking, not to say running. Actors cast as airy sprites (there are several) have trouble leaping. Dances are rendered as exercises in restraint (there being no ad lib to disguise the fact that you have toppled from the stage) and group entrances and exists are slowed, thereby slowing the pace. Rhoden Streeter as Puck declares, for example, that he is about to circle the globe in forty minutes. Then we watch him chug off the stage, gracefully, and up the ramp.
A further consequence of the tilted set is the reduction of stage space. To be on stage is to be in the middle of the action. Midsummer Night's Dream, inconveniently is punctuated by the discovery of a sleeping character by his lover, rival or master. It is not necessary that characters be concealed in subterranean niches until the proper moment, but surely it is not desirable that they be left like public statues in mid-stage. The scene in which Hermia and Helena tear at each other becomes silly because of the fidgetings of onlookers who could be set apart from the women if there were a larger stage.
The decision to use projections is wise, for nothing is more impossible than creating a believable magic forest from paper and paint. John Halvorson's slides and the green and blue light scheme ordained by Alan Symonds worked well enough when the stage was quiet and the poetry delivered with reasonable facility.
There are many very bad actors in the -production and several very good ones. Theseus and his court bumble about, recalling the less palmy days of high school. The fairies acquit themselves no better.
The four lovers are passable, with each of them rising toward something better and then slipping back. Mark Ritts as Demetrius, for example, avoids the traditional Shakespearean sing-song by offering some of his lines in street English, hardly the proper form. Generally the lovers do too much serious embracing. This is not Albee. Nothing is going to come of it on stage.
Rhoden Streeter works too hard at Puck. He is too often heard gasping supreme ecstasy and his "Lord, what fools they mortals be," is, like the rest of his part, produced with excess force. Towards the end of the play he relaxes more than he should and falls to a cheerless drone.
The best of the mechanicals is John Pym as Peter Quince, the carpenter. Pym's delivery is faultless and his gestures suggest that he is as desperate as a man of his low-Court standing should be. Daniel Chumley plays the immortal Bottom with great exuberance, and a fine, rasping voice. But he played Bottom as a stand-up comedian, conscious of his power to entertain. Chumley is so brash that he succeeds in sounding not the least bit awed in the "Bottom's dream" speech.
Dan Deitch is superb as Oberon, and Amanda Vaill is excellent as his Titania. Their scenes are the best in the play, if one overlooks the various spirits clogging the stage.
This Midsummer Night's Dream is the work of Daniel Seltzer's Hum 105 class, and there is a temptation to assign it a grade. Let it go as a disappointment, but not a failure.