Lyric Stage's "Rich Girl": Lighter Than "Heiress"

Amelia Broom, Sasha Castroverde & Joe Short
in "Rich Girl"
(photo: Nerys Powell)
If the premise of “Rich Girl”, Lyric Stage Company’s current offering, seems familiar, it’s because it should be. Written by Victoria Stewart, it’s based on the 1880 novel “Washington Square” by Henry James (adapted as a play, “The Heiress”, in 1947, with two subsequent film versions in 1949 and 1997). The story is basically the same, the reluctance on the part of a wealthy parent to approve a daughter’s choice of a suitor, who is suspected of being more interested in money than in love. But the similarities pretty much end there. This is far, far from the melodrama one might expect, but is in fact a story with a distinctively lighter touch. As directed here by Courtney O’Connor in its New England premiere, it’s a fundamentally rejuvenated look at an age-old quandary, from a much more comedic point of view. Stewart doesn’t just update this basic idea, but takes it in ingenious directions one doesn’t expect. By the time some family conflicts are reconciled, you’ve heard from a wonderfully creative new voice in the theater.

Eve (Amelia Broom), a divorced CNBC “celebrity financial guru” (think Suze Orman) heads her own foundation, and is a self-described “truth-teller”. Claudine (Sasha Castroverde), her clumsy and unsophisticated daughter with rebellious hair the color of an overripe aubergine, is being groomed to take over the foundation. Maggie (Celeste Oliva), Eve’s personal assistant (think Eve Arden), provides a buffer between them when Henry (Joe Short), a theatrical artist in a dirt-poor, off-off-Broadway company, reencounters Claudine, whom he hasn‘t seen since high school. He’s looking partly for a grant, and perhaps more than she takes for granted. In one telling encounter, Henry says very pointedly to Eve: “Do I like money? Sure. Money does, after all, buy happiness. They say it doesn’t, but you and I both know the statistics. It does.” Eve has already told her television audience about what her priorities are for necessary “financial intimacy”: “When a man and a woman love each other, truly love each other, they will want…to sign…a pre-nup” (with an emergency fund for the first eight months). Her motto, parroted back by her followers, is “Honesty First”, which she brutally demonstrates when she tells Claudine that giving birth to her ruined her life. Claudine retorts that her mother “wanted me to be unloved forever to teach me a lesson”. Occasional referee Maggie comments to Claudine: “You’re loved, but that’s not enough to convince you that you’re loveable.”

To walk the tightrope between the tragic and the satirical in this play, without resorting to caricature or stooping to the level of sit-coms, might present too much of a challenge in lesser hands. Fortunately, O’Connor has assembled a cast that’s more than capable of pulling this off. Broom has a field day with the role of the truly sadistic mother, which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw her dominating diva last season in New Rep’s “Master Class”; her Eve and her garden of evil are relentless, even when the secret of some of her personal issues surfaces, too long hidden beneath that snake-oil saleswoman. Castroverde is an appealingly vulnerable klutz who eventually morphs into the woman even her monster of a mother could love, an intensely believable metanoia from wallflower to Venus fly trap. Oliva, a familiar presence on Lyric’s stage, has never been better, though one might wish she would slow down her pace a bit when cracking wise. Last but not least is Short as the enigmatic would-be suitor, keeping cast and audience wondering as to whether Henry’s intentions are honorable or mercenary, and whether he loves Claudine as she does him; he’s both appealingly earnest and unnervingly suspect at the same time. The discerning of fact from possible fiction frames the dilemma. The work of the technical crew aids considerably in establishing this piece. The Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield is amazingly suggestive given the limited confines of Lyric’s venue, aided by the perfectly focused Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro and authentically appropriate Sound Design by Brendan F. Doyle, not to mention the fine Costume Design by Mallory Frers. All contribute to the successful modernization of this time-honored conflict.

Without divulging too much about the plot’s twists and turns, it could be said that this version is about risk and regret, and reconciliation, but not necessarily the kind of reconciliation one might expect. Even Claudine herself recognizes that the term “reconciliation” can mean a merely financial one. And Maggie sums up the irony of all ironies: “If he acts as though he loves you, and you act as though you love him, how is that different from being in love with one another?” It’s an even more cynical view than that of Henry James, despite coming from the comical sidekick. Maggie also notes at one point when considering a move: “Washington Square is beautiful”, a real inside Jamesian joke. Well, maybe, but beauty is only skin deep. As the final scene arrives, we finally learn the fate of these tortured relationships (or maybe not). Those who have awaited the heiress’ decision in past productions, just as with another certain play as to whether Nora will slam that door of her dollhouse, will just have to wait a bit longer to see how this one comes out. One thing will be certain at the curtain: you won’t be quite the same audience coming out as you were going in. And, richer or poorer, that’s the very modern model of thought-provoking theater.


Bridge Rep's "Hello Again": Theater in La Ronde

Sean Patrick Gibbons and Aubin Wise ("Hello Again")
(Photo: Marc J. Franklin)

The musical “Hello Again”, Bridge Rep’s current production, was first performed in New York in 1994, commissioned by Lincoln Center. With book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa (“Marie Christine”, “The Wild Party” and “See What I Wanna See”), it was almost sung-through, thus virtually an opera. Based on the 1897 play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler, who placed his work in the Vienna of the 1890’s, “Hello Again” is centered in the twentieth century. It consists of ten scenes covering ten decades, a chain of ten conversations leading to ten sexual dalliances between ten pairs of people. As with the Schnitzler source, each scene is linked by a character type from the previous scene until the first and last characters meet in the final section. They are all essentially on the same quest for a real emotional connection. This version is in a cabaret style setting, which proves quite appropriate for this intimate ninety minute, intermissionless piece. And speaking of “ten”, this cast rates a ten out of ten, as does this production, which certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “immersive”.

We first encounter the title song accompanying a dance by The Whore (Lauren Eicher) and The Soldier (Sean Patrick Gibbons). Then The Nurse (Aubin Wise) contemplates the loss of her virginity to the Soldier in the songs “Zei Gezent” (with a nod to the Andrews Sisters), “I Gotta Little Time”, and “We Kiss”. The Nurse meets and conquers The College Boy (Andrew Spatafora) with the song “In Some Other Life”. He in turn hooks up with The Young Wife (Sarah Talbot) in a movie theater showing an Astaire/Rogers flick in the song “Story of My Life”. The Young Wife substitutes a pillow for herself next to The Husband (Jared Dixon) to the songs “At the Prom”, “Ah Maein Zeit!”, and “Tom”. Next LaChiusa puts a more modern spin when The Husband meets The (not-so-very-innocent) Young Thing (Spatafora) to the tune of “Listen to the Music”, and said Young Thing subsequently takes up with The Writer (Gibbons) with a series of songs, aboard the Titanic no less, “Montage”, “Safe”, and “The One I Love”. The Writer survives to be overtaken by The Actress (Wise) in the song “Silent Movie”. She then attempts to seduce The Senator (Dixon) with the songs “Rock with Rock”, “Angel of Mercy”, and “Mistress of the Senator”. Finally, the Senator encounters The Whore, with the song “The Bed Was Not My Own”, and a reprise of “Hello Again”, completing the cycle. The scenes aren’t chronological, but there are common threads and a ubiquitous brooch. By the time all the combinations and permutations have spun, there’s been a lot of sex, thankfully simulation rather than stimulation.

Just as the Off-Broadway conception was fundamentally a collaboration between LaChiusa and Choreographer Graciela Daniele, so here the production is an expertly collaborative effort, this time between Director Michael Bello and Choreographer Stephen Ursprung, as well as their technical crew. Their ingenious elements are all superb, especially given the limitations of the venue. The Scenic Design by Anne Sherer is spare but effective, as is the Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro. The Musical Direction by Mindy Cimini, Reeds by Thomas Carroll, and Percussion by Colin Fleming, are as harmonious as the musical score itself, covering several styles of music over the decades. The Costume Design by Kathleen Doyle is especially clever in keeping the chronology straight.

When seen in New York two decades ago, the work was a revelation, not just of LaChiusa’s brilliance, which has yet to catch on with critics or the general public to the extent that it should (it ran just over a hundred performances), but also of the several opportunities for actors to shine. That original cast of ten was a who’s-going-to-be-who; the same might well be said for this cast.

Underground Railway's "Brundibar": This "Giraffe" Has Legs

"Brundibar" & "But the Giraffe!" 

Underground Railway’s latest production at Central Square Theater is the children’s opera “Brundibar”. Originally performed by children at a Prague orphanage, subsequently by them when they were transported to the Terezin concentration camp in 1944 (in what is now the Czech Republic), with music by Hans Krasa and libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, this version was adapted by Tony Kushner. It‘s presented here with its companion piece, a prequel, Kushner‘s “But the Giraffe!”.

Directed by Scott Edmiston, “Brundibar” is the fairy tale of two penniless children, Aninku (Rebecca Klein) and her brother Pepicek (Alec Shiman), who need to purchase milk for their ailing mother, so they sing in the public marketplace to earn the money. They’re thwarted by the evil Brundibar, an organ grinder (John F. King). With the help of the other children in the town, as well as a sparrow (Debra Wise), a cat (Christie Lee Gibson), and a dog (Phil Berman), they chase the organ grinder away, but he warns he will return. The presence of what appears to be a kindly policeman (Jeremiah Kissel) is misleadingly reassuring. The story concerns the triumph over tyranny by some seemingly helpless children, as well as, more subliminally, the power of art to uplift and transform.

The curtain-raiser “But the Giraffe!” takes place in the cheery bedroom of little Eva (Nora Iammarino), who is told by her mother (Gibson) that they are moving to “some place nice”, though we in the audience know better. So do her father (Berman) and grandfather (Kissel), but they keep the truth from her, even as they sport those unmissable big yellow stars. The dilemma facing Eva is that she must choose between taking her stuffed giraffe, Uncle All-Neck, and the score for an opera composed by a Mr. Krasa and in the possession of her Uncle Rudy (Patrick Varner); there’s no room to take both. Her grandmother (Wise) is wise about giraffes, but it falls to Uncle Rudy to tell Eva the score.

As a brief double bill, running just an hour and a half, this is perfect for children (perhaps “of all ages”, as they say, but adults may find Kushner’s contribution too simplistic). It’s a fine start for a more serious follow-up discussion with children as to what was really going on with this relocation. The fact that the opera was initially used as a propaganda piece doesn’t diminish the poignancy of the banishing of Brundibar (though the point was better made in the book version illustrated by Maurice Sendak when he portrayed him with a Hitler mustache). Unfortunately, as history records, evil has a way of cropping up again.


Huntington's "Seagull": A Bucket List Check-Off

Kate Burton and Marc Vietor in "Seagull"
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
If you’ve been waiting for a flawless production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, you may now cross it off your bucket list. Huntington Theatre Company’s current production of the play is as close to sheer perfection as one could hope for. First produced unsuccessfully in 1896, but since then recognized as Chekhov’s finest full-length play, this is a work filled with actors’ dream roles (and this is a dream cast). Thus it’s no wonder that Kate Burton chose this piece to add yet another triumphant performance to her estimable list of credits with this company. Here wonderfully directed by Maria Aitken (remembered for her helming of previous Huntington efforts such as “The 39 Steps”, “The Cocktail Hour”, and “Private Lives”), the play showcases not only Burton but a large and amazingly talented cast. This version is clearly a comedy (as Chekhov himself felt), even though its larger-than-life characters experience various feelings of failure in their lives, all of them speaking with the intensity so typical of his countrymen. The translation by the late Paul Schmidt is a bit anachronistic here and there: “aspirin” for “valerian drops”, or the story of one mistaken actor’s substitution in a performance of the word “crap” (rather than “tap”) for the word “trap”. Overall, however, this version makes the play more accessible.

As with much of Chekhov, a scorecard with the names and numbers of the players wouldn’t hurt. The action takes place toward the end of the nineteenth century in the house and garden of Pyotr Sorin (Thomas Derrah), as his sister Irina Arkadina, a.k.a. Madame Treplev (Kate Burton), an actress, is visiting her playwright son Konstantin Treplev (Morgan Ritchie) with her lover, successful writer Boris Trigorin (Ted Koch). Ilya Shamrayev, Sorin’s steward (Don Sparks), his wife Paulina (Nancy E. Carroll) and daughter Masha (Meredith Holzman) are also present as Konstantin prepares to put on a makeshift performance of his latest work with aspiring actress Nina Zarechnaya (Auden Thornton), daughter of a wealthy landowner. Nina makes the first of several allusions to the titular bird, stating that she is attracted to the estate as if she were a seagull. Also on hand are Yevgeny Dorn, a doctor (Marc Vietor) and Semyon Medvedenko, a poor schoolmaster (Nael Nacer). Again as with much of Chekhov, there are various amorous complications, often unrequited ones: the schoolteacher loves Masha who loves Konstantin who in turn loves Nina, and so on. The remainder of this production’s cast includes Yaakov, a laborer (Kyle Cherry), a Cook (June Baboian), a Maid (Melissa Jesser), and a Servant (Jeff Marcus). This is one wondrous troupe.

The black-clad Masha (the hilariously dour Holzman) at the very beginning of the play exclaims: “I am in mourning for my life”. Hers is but one of several existential crises suffered by characters in the play, notably all those unrequited lovers. Chekhov’s central theme is generally accepted to be the impossibility of love; all four artists (Arkadina, Trigorin, Treplev and Nina) are in love, none of them successfully; each also finds her or his identity in work, or from admiration by others. They struggle between their creativity and real emotions, taking refuge in accepted literary expressions rather than revealing their true feelings.

As would be expected for a play more than a century old, this work has been critiqued and analyzed to a fare-thee-well, even being compared to “Hamlet”. Other themes that have been proposed are the banality of existence and one’s independence (the seagull first symbolizing freedom, later more dependence). Whatever a theatergoer takes from this work, it has surely withstood the test of time. It remains one of the most respected plays in the theatrical pantheon. As performed by this incomparable cast, bringing out many of the play’s strengths, it’s not difficult to see why. Particularly outstanding are the tormented Ritchie and the driven Thornton, as well as, not surprisingly, Burton as the self-centered diva. But even the smaller roles, such as Carroll’s hysterically frustrated Paulina or Nacer’s hapless and hopeless Semyon, are played to the hilt. Then there’s Derrah’s ironic Sorin, punctuating many a line with the useless phrase “or something”. Not for a moment did anyone in the cast seem less than natural and astonishingly real. The technical credits are all up to the company’s traditional standards, from the beautiful Scenic Design by Ralph Funicello (a rising moon over the garden filled with birches, the inviting parlor), to the lovely and varied Costume Design by Robert Morgan (especially for Burton), to the intricate Lighting Design by James F. Ingalls and atmospheric Sound Design by Drew Levy, with effective Original Music Composition by Mark Bennett.

The successful history of “The Seagull” (once past that inauspicious premiere) is proof positive that “classics” are classified as such for a reason. This “Seagull”, even after taxidermy, could easily find a further life in the theater, as it’s certainly worthy of Broadway. Or something.


New Rep's "Tongue of a Bird": Femmes of a Feather Fly

The cast of "Tongue of a Bird"
(Photo: Rob Lorino)
New Rep’s current production, “Tongue of a Bird”, by Ellen McLaughlin, is the first work of the Inaugural Season of New Rep’s proposed annual Black Box Festival, focusing on themes of dignity and discovery. It’s a promising, if not totally fulfilling, beginning to an admirable plan to present newly minted plays; this season’s efforts will include two one person pieces, “Our Lady” and “In Between”. This initial play concerns women who seek to find a lost loved one or to fly away, like a bird caught in a chimney trying to escape, hoping against hope. It’s worth noting that not only is the entire cast and the director female, but also half of the technical crew. (Though perhaps we’re almost at a place where this need not be deemed noteworthy). Based on the results of so much estrogen in this production, it could be said that it’s past time that we garnered the fruits of a particularly feminine perspective.

Thanks to the talent of a remarkable quintet of fine actresses, ranging in vintage from a sixth grader to an artistic veteran, the mythic roles of women searching and rescuing, being found or not, are presented with haunting imagery. Maxine (a mesmerizing Elizabeth Anne Rimar) is an emotionally scarred pilot with a perfect record of finding those who have been lost. She flies to her childhood home in the snowy Adirondacks to search for Charlotte (the astonishly polished Claudia Q. Nolan, on the brink of becoming a teenager), a missing twelve year old girl. Maxine reestablishes contact there with Zofia (the unforgettable Bobbie Steinbach), her eccentric Polish refugee grandmother. Through her dreams, Maxine is forced to confront memories of her mother, who committed suicide when she was a child herself. She has been hired by Charlotte’s desperate mother Dessa (the powerful Ilyse Robbins) who refuses to accept the likely truth. As the play progresses, Maxine’s dead mother Evie (a complex Olivia D’Ambrosio) makes several well timed appearances. Not surprisingly, given that the playwright herself once appeared as a hovering angel in the original “Angels in America”, other productions of “Tongue of a Bird” have featured Maxine’s angelic mother flying, literally.

Program notes depict the play as a re-thinking of the Greek myth of Demeter searching for Persephone, with Zofia the truth-telling oracle. McLaughlin speaks of the tongues of women blackened by rubber used in electroshock therapy, and many avian images. The concept of flight, literal and figurative, is central to her play, repeated often in her “megametaphorizing” manner. Her words can be virtually poetic at times, but often seem the result of well-intentioned overwriting. It’s the sort of work that must read better than it plays. Thanks to the expert performances of the cast, it nearly overcomes what could all too easily be viewed as pretentious. At times, the dialogue even comes perilously close to the level of a Hallmark card or a fortune cookie, but McLaughlin searches for our attention and rescues it just in the nick of time. As tightly directed by Emily Ranii, with effectively coordinated Lighting Design by Dan Alaimo and Sound Design by Edward Young, as well as simple Scenic and Properties Design by Courtney Nelson and well conceived Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl and Projection Design by Matthew Haber, it emerges as a very cohesive production.

As the first in what is hoped to be a significant series of new works for the theater, “Tongue of a Bird” is the sort of play audiences may flock to. After all, as the program notes also attest, we are all daughters and sons. If this production is sometimes too earthbound in the writing, in the performances of this stellar cast, it soars.


SpeakEasy's "Whale": But Weight, There's More

Charlie (John Kuntz), "The Whale"
Photo: Craig Bailey, Perspective Photo 
All right, let’s get the more egregious puns over; as he has shown on many occasions, John Kuntz as playwright and actor is a huge talent. His current role in SpeakEasy‘s production of “The Whale”, is yet another example of just how gigantic that talent is, especially evident when portraying someone with so much personal baggage. It’s tempting to go on, perhaps endlessly puntificating, but that would be like shooting fish in a barrel. As the title above suggests, there’s more than first meets the eye in “The Whale”, the regional premiere of the successful play by Idaho-born playwright Samuel D. Hunter. The central figure of this work, (which won the 2012 Lucille Lortel Award as Best Off-Broadway Play), is the morbidly obese Charlie (Kuntz), a six-hundred pound Idaho couch potato. It seems fifteen years ago he walked out on his wife Mary (Maureen Keiller) and their then two-year-old daughter Ellie (Josephine Elwood) for another man. His nurse friend Liz (Georgia Lyman) is on hand. The other member of the cast is Elder Thomas, a nineteen-year-old Mormon missionary (Ryan O’Connor) determined to save our titanic hero (from obesity perhaps and from homosexuality for sure). Suffering from CHF (Congestive Heart Failure), Charlie’s life is as much a figurative mess as his apartment is a literal one.

Charlie’s most frequent lament is “I’m sorry”, but it’s he we might be tempted to feel sorry for, once we get beyond the physical impediment of his size. Accused by others of rampant optimism in general, if not about himself, he wants desperately to connect with his daughter, to help her feel empathy, to feel anything. Hovering in the wings are the stultifying precepts of the Mormon Church toward gays, and the prose of Melville’s “Moby Dick” about another man doomed to death. Hunter has expressed elsewhere that he sees religion and art as virtually the same internalized thing. Charlie looks for meaning in his ebbing life, with considerable literary, especially Biblical, allusions. If one can’t exactly walk in another’s fat suit, she or he can surely identify with the real conflict of faith (at least in the form of organized religion) and gay integrity. Orbiting around Charlie is his rebellious daughter, her world-weary mother, a nurse with a Messiah complex, and a fundamentally naïve missionary with a complex about the Messiah, but intent on giving him hope.

The cast is terrific, led of course by Kuntz (in the “title role”?). The play is something else again. It’s a fascinating premise, often very engaging, but the plot development proceeds at a pace too languid and labored (not unlike Charlie’s breathing); it may well be that the play is too thin for such a lengthy work. As directed by David R. Gammons, the current production is thought-provoking. The technical credits, from the Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco (early landfill décor), to the Wardrobe Supervision by Gail Astrid Buckley (including the rental of the fat suit from the New York production), eerily effective Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg and even more eerily significant Sound Design by David Remedios (waves, whales and wheezes), are extraordinarily contributive to Charlie’s surroundings. As Bette Davis once put it, “What a dump!” A lot of attention to detail (the mammoth size of the blood pressure cuff, or the wallpaper on his laptop with a shot of Haystack Rock on the Oregon coast, for example) helps convey just how intensely constricted Charlie’s existence is.

No one who sees this production will regret spending the time with this pathetic central character as he progresses from claustrophobic victim to eventual inspiration (at least for his daughter if not for his online students). He and we may finally find the empathy he had sought, in the words of one treasured book review of “Moby Dick” that becomes a pivotal piece: “This book made me think about my own life. This book made me think.” So should this play.

ArtsEmerson: Perchance to "Dream"

The Cast of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
The news was promising: ArtsEmerson’s latest presentation would be Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, in a co-production by Bristol Old Vic (the longest continuously running theatre in Britain) and the Handspring Puppet Company (of South Africa, led by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones), the team that last brought us the Tony-winning “War Horse”. This version of the play, directed by Tom Morris (Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic), with astounding Choreography by Laurel Swift, is another creative mix of live actors and puppetry. Advance buzz was that it would be a visual stunner, the comedy perhaps a bit more broadly played than usual, with more than a trace of pure theatrical magic. Happily, that magic is alive and well, in a hilarious and astonishingly brilliant collaboration, easily the best straight play production anywhere in the Boston area this season. The wizards of “War Horse” are at it again, this time focusing their marvelous wands on what continues to be the most popular comedy by the Bard of Avon

For those needing a brush-up on their Shakespeare, herewith is a brief synopsis of the mix-ups and match-ups. In the courtroom of Athenian King Theseus (David Ricardo-Pearce), Hermia (Akiya Henry) refuses to marry Demetrius (Kyle Lima), her father’s choice, despite the law allowing fathers to make their daughters do anything they command; his advice is to get herself to a nunnery. Instead, she flees into the forest with her beloved poet Lysander (Alex Felton), where they run into Helena (Naomi Cranston), Hermia’s best friend, who happens to love Demetrius. At the same time, the woodland fairies are having their own problems, as fairies do. Oberon (Ricardo-Pearce again), king of the fairies, and his queen Titania (Saskia Portway), are out of sorts over her preoccupation with rearing a human boy; he orders his helper Puck (puppeteers Saikat Ahamed, Lucy Tuck and Fionn Gill) to provide a magical flower (the juices of which cause one on waking to fall in love with the first thing one sees). When Puck encounters a group (the Rude Mechanicals) performing a play (headed by the loudmouth Nick Bottom, played by Miltos Yerolemou), he thinks it would be funny to have Queen Titania fall for Bottom, which she does even though Puck has turned Bottom’s head into that of an ass. To make things worse (and more confusing) Puck mistakenly makes Lysander fall for Helena, making Hermia angry; he then makes Demetrius fall for Helena too. Oberon directs Puck to clean up the mess, if it takes him all night (which, with a playing time just shy of three hours with one intermission, it almost does). When all awake, they are in the correct permutations and combinations: Lysander loves Hermia, Demetrius loves Helena, and so on. Oberon reverses the spell on Titania and Bottom, and the royal couple are reunited, while Puck ends with an apology for all his errors. Is this all clear? No matter, it will be.

In the capable hands (and fingers) of the puppeteers and thespians, it’s perfectly clear. With this (you should excuse the expression) dream cast, it’s midsummer indeed, despite the lingering piles of snow outside the theater. The whole cast is pluperfect, and mention should also be made of Colin Michael Carmichael (doubling as Quince and Peaseblossom) and Christopher Keegan (doubling as Philostrate and Cobweb) who complete the list of cast members. Wizardry surrounds them all, from the overall Design by Vicki Mortimer, to the Lighting Design by Philip Gladwell, Sound Design by Christopher Shutt, and fantastic Score by Composer David Price. The many hands responsible for the Costume and Puppetry Design have produced imaginative garb, for example creating Puck by utilizing such items as a blowtorch, garden tools, and a saw. Yet, despite all the wonders, the production does slow down a bit for the play-within-a-play (though they manage to make the best of it), but that’s the fault of the playwright. Even Shakespeare nods.

One might find the treatment of Bottom surprising, since in most productions he ends up with more shreds of dignity. Here, he gets a bit of a bum rap, but suffers no bawdily harm. Yerolemou as Bottom is just plain amazing. You’ll have to see his transformation into an ass to appreciate it; it’s the single funniest and most unforgettable visual image of many a theater season. This truly wondrous concept, and its execution, are just one of the joys that threaten to split one‘s sides permanently. At one point one character slurs another with the insult of being a puppet, one of countless verbal ironies in this incredible production. But oh, how cool these puppets be!