Friday, June 26, 2009

Tapped By Mustardseed: Carte Blanche's Midsummer

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It was my last show before a weekend with the APT . . . a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that Carte Blanche Studios. And., as usual, there wasn’t room in the print review to mention everything . . . here are a few impressions that didn’t make it into a far more concise review of the show . . . (and some that might’ve.)

--Clayton Hamburg’s Puck looks and moves exactly the way I’d always pictured him doing so, but for a pair of hooves at the bottom of his feet and a slight seem visible in the costume . . . it’s refreshing to see what I think of as being a more classical depiction of the character as a satyr after having seen a number of attempts at something else in recent productions at the APT and Door Shakespeare.

 

--The set was impressively elaborate . . . even the lights seem to come from bits of flora crawling around the forest outside Athens. The difficulty here was the long scene changes . . . bits of set had to be carted on in places and it wasn’t exactly graceful, but attention is cleverly taken off this by fairies offstage dancing around playfully. I didn’t know to expect this until Mustarseed broke through a side curtain and tapped me on the forearm.

--And while I’m on the subject, Liz Whitford was a lot of fun as Mustarseed. The idea that one fairy would happen to notice how strange it is that Queen Titania has fallen in love with a mortal with an ass’ head is clever comedy. As witnessed here and elsewhere, Whitford has impressive comic instincts. You can tell she’s completely obedient to her queen, but she knows something’s strange and feels immensely uncomfortable . . . it’s a fun, performance.

 

--Costuming on the whole was interesting, textured and, on the whole, quite uneven. With costuming by the five-person team of Amanda Johnson, Kate Vannoy, Katrina Greguska, Mike Kelley and Fairuza Jones, there wasn’t a cohesive vision in costuming, which actually kind of worked well with the production . . .


--Paul Terkel, whom I didn’t get to mention at all in the print review, does a brilliantly bombastic performance as Bottom. He plays vain pomposity way over the top, which might not normally work, but Terkel has the right kind of charisma to carry it off. He hasn’t registered as much of an impression with me in previous Carte Blanche productions, but here he really shows a great amount of talent.

--Okay . . .here’s the deal . . . someone mentioned to me recently that the well-meaning hack from the daily had written something in his blog at the top of the month about Shakespeare . . . something that sounded weird and ignorant. I read the blog and here’s the gist of it—he was saying that, since Shakespeare is classical theatre, it should really be done by trained professionals—that if Shakespeare can’t be done “well,” it shouldn’t be done at all. The idea here is that people who might be attending the show who aren’t familiar with the playwright might walk away thinking that they don’t like Shakespeare simply because they’d seen a “bad” performance of it . . . which is a line of logic that has way too many flaws to address here, but I’d just like to say that I’m really happy that less-established companies are around to do this kind of show with less-experienced actors. Honestly, having seen two productions of Midsummer  last summer that featured professional actors, I have to say that the actresses playing mortal females Helena and Hermia were far more impressive than either of the performances by professionals at the APT and Door Shakespeare . . . the APT/Door Shakes actresses in those roles may have put-in performances that had a flawless kind of technical brilliance, but Jennifer Gaul and Anna Lewein had an endearingly human beauty in the way they carried themselves that made them feel like the center of the human end of the play. Gaul and Lewein both embellished their characters with the kind of delciously idiosyncratic personalities that make a character all that more vivid onstage. These roles have a kind of resonance with younger actresses that don’t quite feel as compelling coming from those with more stage experience. The play may have felt a bit uneven in places, but Gaul and Lewein really brought this one together for me, which is odd, as there’s a lot of other stuff going on here . . . I look forward to seeing the two of them in future productions.

Carte Blanche Studios' A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through July 7th at Carte Blanche’s space on 1024 South 5th St. A more concise, comprehenive review runs in next week's Shepherd-Express.    

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