There is a sort of love fest you might want to join going on over in Brooklyn – and yes it is a trek – right across the street from BAM. It is the opening of the stunning new Theatre for a New Audience at that Horowitz built. That would be Jeffrey Horowitz, who has been a thoughtful ambassador for theatre since before I met him in 1977 at Potters Field Theatre Company. Over the past 34 years he has helmed Theatre For A New Audience as well as been a presence all over the New York Theatre Community. He has earned his stripes and the realization of this theatre.
The Polonsky Shakespeare center, as is it officially known, houses the 299 seat Samual H. Scripps Mainstage – “the first stage built for Shakespeare and classical drama in New York City since the Vivian Beaumont in 1965” as well as a smaller 50 seat Theodore H. Rogers Studio. Ahh!! Naming opportunities as their finest.
The Scripps Theatre is like stepping into the gullet of an enormous creature. Confined to the footprint of a former parking garage, it is a long and narrow black box. But one notes immediately the flexibility that has been built into the theatre. Much like the smaller Liney (?) theatre at Signature, the production staging possibilities are endless – proscenium, thrust, round. These folks are going to have the audience hanging from the rafters one day.
Aiding in the realization of the inaugural production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of course the iconic Julie Taymor. As a matter of fact this could easily be titles “Julie Taymor’s A Midsummber Night’s Dream” for though the substance is Shakespeare, the spectacle is Taymor.
Ms. Taymor has taken full advantage of the theatre’s 35 foot ceilings and the mechanics for trap doors. At the show’s opening Puck (Kathryn Hunter) a creature of no particular sex, enters and falls asleep on the bed stage center. The cast/crew follows and attaches clams to the four corners of an enormous sheet and soon Puck and the bed are subsumed into the ceiling. It is magic at its finest. The sheet motif continues thoughout the evening, becoming everything under the sun, including a forest floor. People come and go up and down and the idea of something as conventional as a floor or ceiling stopping them is quickly put aside.
This is a tale of love in all its colors and fashions. Love is not a safe thing, and neither are the ones who control our mortal selves. Oberon (David Harewood) doles out the love Kool-aide with generous ladels. And his queen and Titania (Tina Benko) is not far behind in taking delight in mischief. And the mortals know which side of the bread is being buttered – it ain’t theirs. Unless of course it is – as in the case of Demetrius (Zach Appelman) and Helena (Mandi Masden) who are consumed with the chase until they are caught. Lysander (Jake Horowitz) and Hermia (Lilly Englert) suffer the same delicisou fate. As a matter of fact everyone does with the exception of Hermia’s father Lord Egeus (Robert Langdon Lloyd) who must resign his high hopes in favor of his daughter’s heart’s desire. Even Theseus, The Duke of Athens (Roger Clark) somehow satisfies his bride Hippolyta, Quwn of the Amazons (Okwui Okpokwasili) who was won through violence but will stay of her own choice.
Enter Quince the carpenter (Joe Grifasi), Snug the joiner (Brendan Averett), Bottom the weaver (Max Casella), Flute the bellows-mender, (Zachary Infante), Snout the tinker (Jacob Ming-Trent), and Starveling the tailor(William Youmans) are all in on the love talk. These players dissect the telling of a love tale with the precision of brain surgeons. Who and how and what to represent – nothing is left to chance – unlike love itself.
It is a mystical tale ripe for the transition into a visual carnival of excess. At no time will you forget that Taymor is running the show, but perhaps that is not the point. In addition, you will not connect on a visceral level with any of these mad romping folks – but perhaps that is not the point either.
You will be entertained for the entire time. And that, being the true reason for theatre to begin with, is not too shabby. So cheers and celebration all around! Welcome this new extraordinary theatre into your hearts and appointment calendars. It is worth the schlep and then some.
One note here is that the acoustics have yet to be finessed. Some actors have mics and some do not, which is odd. In addition, while this is a thrust stage, the production is directed, sad to say, for those of us in the center orchestra, So for much of the evening, the actors were not facing the audiences on the stage right and left areas. But these folks were closer to the stage, so perhaps the sound deficit was not as apparent. But for the most part, the actors had their backs to us it was difficult to hear. Some actors have not yet figured out that when their back is facing a section of the audience they must concentrate on being heard by those very folks. Some are just plain unintelligible. Seems as though those acoustical consultants will be busy for awhile longer.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare; directed by Julie Taymor; music composed by Elliot Goldenthal; choreography by Brian Brooks
WITH: Zach Appelman (Demetrius), Brendan Averett (Snug), Tina Benko (Titania), Max Casella (Nick Bottom), Roger Clark (Duke Theseus), Lilly Englert (Hermia), Joe Grifasi (Peter Quince), David Harewood (Oberon), Jake Horowitz (Lysander), Kathryn Hunter (Puck), Zachary Infante (Francis Flute), Robert Langdon Lloyd (Lord Egeus), Mandi Masden (Helena), Jacob Ming-Trent (Tom Snout), Okwui Okpokwasili (Queen Hippolyta) and William Youmans (Robin Starveling).
Sets by Es Devlin; costumes by Constance Hoffman; lighting by Donald Holder; sound by Matt Tierney; projections by Sven Ortel; aerial design and flight by Airealistic; voice director, Andrew Wade; dramaturge, Jonthan Kalb; production stage manager, Lori Lundquist; production manager, Kat Tharp; general manager, Theresa Von Klug. Presented by Theater for a New Audience, Jeffrey Horowitz, artistic director; Henry Christensen III, chairman; Dorothy Ryan, managing director. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, 866-811-4111, tfana.org. Through Jan. 12. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes. The architects are H3 Hardy Collaboration Feature working with Theatre Projects Consultants and Akustics (acoustical consultants).