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In the Apthrop House Courtyard
Clouds shift warily about the court-yard, and an occasional plane whines sharply across the sky. It is very cold. None of this seems to disturb the people below, who are revellers enacting a play, and who behave as if they night were indeed in warm midsummer. Their play, although it is not really a complicated one, needs some subtlety and a good deal of spirit to succeed, especially under conditions in which the actors often have to shout to be heard and to fidget to keep from freezing.
For the most part the Adams House Drama Society has done well with this production, and it is at least half so because the Director (Ned Leavitt) makes such clever use of the space and trees of Apthorp House. with the help of Tom Martin's lighting he creates a carefully limited stage that seems built at once to accomodate members of Theseus' court and to confuse creatures who stray into the wood. Fairies hide in the trees, lovers sleep under them, clowns extricate themselves in branches.
Leavitt's ingenuity hardly ends here, for his handling of the clowns shows how shrewdly he can exploit actors reacting not only to space but to each other. His crew of patches works together as if it had been training in vaudeville for years; maybe the mechanicals don't laugh hard enough at those gay old parochial Elizabethan jokes abous syphilis and sonnets, but their sense of timing and horseplay is just superb. Terry Malick's Bottom, who "gleeks on occasion" with wonderfully oafish conceit, and Philip Traci's absurdly studied Quince are the true leaders of this lot, and a grining David Riggs makes an enchanting Thisby in the interlude.
But then Leavitt tries to make his lovers act like clowns as well, and the method horribly breaks down. The play is carefully and clearly constructed to develop four different sorts of characters (court, fairies, lovers, clowns) who use different language, and this production loses greatly by blurring Shakespeare's distinctions. The highly mannered speech and in heretly ludicrous situation of the infatuated pairs ought to be enough to define their place in the comedy Leavitt has them fooling around in a style completely inappropriate to their parts. Helena (Janet Leslie) make it clear how fine they can be as fighting bitches, but as simply creatures in love they and Lysander and Demetrius (Tom Adams and John Kemp) appear to realize all too plainly that love is terribly silly sort of sickness. By so consistently finding each other tranparently preposterous they miss the point.
Harry Smith's Puck, by contrast, is a curiously dour figure. An extremely active and athletic Puck, he nonetheless refuses to enjoy himself; "Lord, what fools these mortals be" comes out as a hoarse shrick of despair. He is a virtuoso, but he as not Puck. Yet with the help of Barbara Channing's costume (all her costumes are delightful) and Gregory Levin's music he performs some bewitching dances. I wish I could say as much of the fairies (one of them, oddly enough, is missing), who dance capably enough but who sadly jar the harmony of court-yard and music when they speak.
Titania (Sally Marshall) is a most attractive but most insipid Queen. In deep it is left to Oberon to redeem the fairies, which John Parker effectively does: his light scheming and commanding presence indicate that whatever happens in the wood, he is essentially in charge. One wonders, though, how even he can deal with the curious jumble of wood-creatures Adams House has given him. Theseus (Langdon Marsh) could profit by some of Oberon's authority; Marsh manages to lose his air of vague ineffectuality only in the final act.
Yet, after all this, it is still a highly aimable company performing an entrancing play in powerfully adapted trancing play in powerfully adapted surroundings. Sitting on the ground numb as one foten feels, one knows with unshakeable cetainty that entertainments at court were once and remain the sweetest of luxuries.
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