By Donna Herman
When you’re the toughest guy in the bar, every would-be boxing champ wants to take a shot at you. The same is true in the theater. Everyone wants a crack at the Bard. Willy Shakespeare. The most produced playwright in the world. That includes Douglas Carter Beane whose new play “Fairycakes” is a mixed-up version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a little bit of some fractured fairytales thrown in like “Peter Pan,” “Pinocchio,” and “Cinderella.”
In “Fairycakes” Beane doesn’t simply re-tell the “Midsummer” story. He uses Shakespeare’s favorite verse structure, iambic pentameter, to tell the story of a fighting magical couple, Oberon (Arnie Burton) and Titania (Julie Halston) who have four magical fairy children: Peaseblossum (Kristolyn Lloyd), Moth (Jackie Hoffman), Cobweb (Z Infante) and Mustardseed (Ann Harada). Each of the fairies has a job to do overseeing someone who needs help. Peaseblossum is helping Geppetto (Mo Rocca) recognize that he’s supposed to carve that log into his son Pinocchio (Sabatino Cruz). Moth is looking after that poor lost boy in green tights in Whateverland. And Cobweb is playing Fairy Godmother to a flapper era Cinderella (Kuhoo Verma). While poor Mustardseed is the Tooth Fairy with no sense of direction. She keeps getting lost while trying to deliver cash under pillows for “fangs.”
The “Fairycakes” plot has similarities to “Midsummer” but doesn’t follow it exactly. Yes, there is the love enchantment by Puck (Chris Myers), Oberon’s fairy servant, who puts a spell on the sleeping lovers which goes awry when they wake up and look at the wrong person. But in this version, if Titania and Oberon don’t get back together, the four fairy children die.
Then there’s the obligatory 21st century gender-bending and p.c. messaging. Cinderella’s Prince Viktor (Jason Tam) and Geppetto wake up after being enchanted and fall in love with each other. But when the enchantment is lifted, it turns out that, well, I won’t spoil it. Cobweb is a binary character played by a non-binary actor. But aside from that, the message is that everybody deserves love for who and what they are. No magic necessary.
Which brings me to, why? What is it about “Fairycakes” that Beane felt had to be expressed, and in this way, which hasn’t been done before? And the answer is, I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that what makes it worth sitting there for over two hours is the incredible cast. I’ve never seen Mo Rocca act before, and I wasn’t expecting the physical, emotional performance he gave. Funny, yes. But I wasn’t expecting the sensitivity he portrayed. Jackie Hoffman is amazing. She has the timing of a comedy master and an elastic face that can go from hangdog to ecstatic in the blink of an eye. Julie Halston is a perennial favorite. Acerbic, crackling, and dynamic, she amps up the electricity on the stage whenever she’s on it. Kuhoo Verma was a revelation. Both as Cinderella and as the other character she played, Aurora. She too has impeccable timing and can be casual, formal, shy, or bold. She’s a real talent. Z Infante did an excellent job of not camping up the roles of both Cobweb and Princess. They were extremely nuanced and funny in a realistic way, with just the right occasional foray into vamp territory. Likewise, Arnie Burton did an excellent job in the dual roles of Oberon and the pirate Dirk Dead-Eye. His Oberon was regal and sneering, while his Dirk was swashbuckling on the outside but also a little nerdy underneath it all. A lovely and tender pirate at the end. Kristolyn Lloyd as Peaseblossum had the best command of the verse language. She is a lovely singer and a charming presence on stage, and it is very clear that she understood what she was saying and what was going on. Ms. Lloyd’s off-hand delivery of some of her lines were some of the funniest of the evening.
“Fairycakes” Written and Directed by Douglas Carter Beane
WITH: Mo Rocca (Geppetto/Stepsister); Kristolyn Lloyd (Peaseblossum); Sabatino Cruz (Pinocchio/Stepsister); Jackie Hoffman (Moth); Kuhoo Verma (Cinderella/Aurora); Z Infante (Cobweb/Princess); Ann Harada (Mustardseed/Mermaid); Jamen Nanthakumar (Changeling/Cricket/Stepmother); Julie Halston (Titania/Elizabeth); Chris Myers (Puck); Jason Tam (Prince/Cupid); Billie Aken-Tyers (Understudy); Luke Antony Neville (Understudy); Shahil Patel (Understudy).
Original Music by Lewis Flinn; Choreographer & Associate Director, Ellenore Scott; Scenic Design by Shoko Kambara; Scenic Design by Adam Crinson; Costume Design by Gregory Gale; Lighting Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; Hair Design by Bobbie Zlotnik; Make-up and Tattoo Design by Andrew Sotomayor; Properties Designer, Andre Diaz; Company Manager, Joy Sims; Production Stage Manager, James Fitzsimmons; Press Representative, DKC/O&M. Presented at the Greenwich House Theater, 27 Barrow Street, NYC. For tickets visit: https://www.fairycakestheplay.com/tickets. Running time: 2 hours plus a 15-minute intermission.