Not everyone is going to like this take on one of the Bard's greatest hits. Prospective audience members should take this brief quiz: could you stand a production in which the chink in the Wall (in the Mechanicals' "production" of the Pyramus and Thisbe story), through which Pyramus and Thisbe conspire, is so located that Pyramus has to talk to Thisbe by speaking into the Wall actor's crotch, while Thisbe replies into the Wall's behind?
Those answering "yes" will find many other juicy items to enjoy in this production, which airs out Shakespeare while stretching, but not violating, his play. (Perhaps the greatest liberty is in the degree of libido exhibited by the three Athenian women - instead of Hippolyta, Hermia, and Helena, they should be called Horny, Hornia, and Horniest!)
While many Off-Off-Broadway Shakespeare interpretations fall on hard soil because of the participants' lack of ability to render them, the Third Eye Rep. showed a solidity of ensemble backed by technical talent and overseen by a clear directorial eye. There was more than enough served here that a few extravagant - even overripe - dishes didn't spoil the feast.
The Athenians comprised a sophisticated suite of glitterati, in modern dress. The aforesaid three Hs (Meredith Charles as the sometimes vampish, unrequited Helena; Bianca Edmonds as the regal Hippolyta - and also Titania; and Alexa Polmer as the independent Hermia, whose determination to marry the man she loves starts the play) were a good match for their three men (Shawn Roesa as Hermia's "respectable" suitor, Demetrius; Andrew Mendelson as an almost flaky Theseus and sometimes sinister Oberon; and Jeff Hicks as a cute and charming Lysander, Hermia's true love). Donald Pace was appropriately stern as Hermia's father, Egeus.
The Mechanicals (sometimes doubling as Titania's staff of fairies), wore red Times Square Business Improvement District jumpsuits, and were appropriately vain or dim, in one incarnation and wore rags and were appropriately impish in the other. Carlos Antonio was Quince, earnestly holding his little band together, and Mustardseed; Kurt Elftmann played a delightfully hammy Bottom and Pyramus; Maryanne Murray was an enthusiastic Starveling, Moonshine, and Cobweb; Joshua Polenberg was a dim Snout, Wall, and Moth; and Benjamin Schulson was Flute, a hilarious Thisby, and Peaseblossom. Not to forget Ian Young, as a deliberately forgettable Snug and an amusing, if confused, Lion.
Travis Shakespeare provided a memorable Puck, by turns puckish and out of the Exorcist. His measure as an actor can be taken by comparison with his role as courtier Philostrate, as blandly sophisticated as any Kennedy hanger-on.
The non-living elements of the production - found instruments made from kitchen implements or plastic tubes; a remarkably flexible and complex lighting plot (Herrick Goldman); a set largely comprising a huge tree stump, with audience on two facing sides (Gary Wichansky); the aforesaid costumes (Meredith Charles) - did justice to the imagination and energy of this disciplined troupe.
Copyright 1997 John Chatterton