I do not generally favor wordless Shakespeare productions, for the same reason that I would not enjoy a reading of Wagner. However, among all the great Shakespeare plays the fluid, theatrical Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably the most susceptible to this sort of treatment, and Synetic’s cheery version is fun to watch. It is unlikely that you will be able to follow Shakespeare’s plot from what Synetic puts onstage unless you know it already, but adapter Ben Cunis and director Paata Tsikurishvili put on a pleasant feast of color and movement, and the alternative of sitting back and enjoying it, and Konstantine Lortkipandze’s most excellent music, is an entirely satisfactory one.
For those of you to whom plot is important: Lysander (Scott Brown) loves Hermia (Irina Koval), who loves him right back; Demetrius (Roger Payano) also loves Hermia; Helena (Marissa Molnar) loves Demetrius, and nobody loves Helena. Hermia’s’ dad (Irakli Kavsadze) insists that she marry Demetrius, and Duke Theseus (Chris Galindo), upholding the important legal principle of Father Knows Best, threatens her with death or the nunnery if she does not comply. She responds by taking off into the forest with her beloved Lysander; Demetrius pursues them, and Helena pursues Demetrius.
In the meantime, the Fairy King Oberon (Philip Fletcher) is having a knock-down drag-out with the Fairy Queen Titania (Irina Tsikurishvili) over the service of a changeling boy. Oberon gets the worst of it, and later enlists the mischievous sprite Puck (Alex Mills) to exact a cunning revenge. (In the Synetic version, Puck actually is the changeling. This makes no sense, since Titania wins the fight but Puck ends up on Oberon’s side, but…oh, well.) The revenge is this: Puck will drop the juice of a certain magic flower on a sleeping Titania. This will make her fall in love with the next creature she sees. Next, Puck will find a buffoon for Titania to wake up next to, thus providing Oberon with giggles from watching his lovestruck Queen.
Fortunately for them, the forest is full of buffoons. The Rude Mechanicals, an amateur acting troupe under the unsteady leadership of Peter Quince (Ryan Sellers), is in rehearsal there. Puck selects the most buffoonish of all the Mechanicals, the endlessly vain Bottom (Kavsadze), to be Titania’s boy toy. But, in the earliest recorded example of mission creep, Puck also anoints Demetrius and Lysander with flower juice, and shortly thereafter they are both in love with Helena. Hilarity Ensues, until Justice is Restored. And, for a bonus, we are permitted to see the product of the Rude Mechanical’s labors: a reenactment of the classic love drama, Pyramus and Thisbe.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s funniest comedy and has some of his best lines. Playing it without words necessarily makes the play broader and fuzzier. The Synetic version resorts to much slapstick. Some of it is funny, as when Kavsadze, who has the body of an NFL lineman in genteel retirement, sucks in his guts as Bottom for Titania’s close and loving inspection; when he can hold them in no longer the result is something of which the great Jerome (Curly) Howard would have been proud. But some of the slapstick is familiar and slightly creaky, as when Helena gives an unprovoked, accidental head-butt to Demetrius, or when Galindo, playing the Rude Mechanical Snug, tries to read his script upside-down until corrected by Peter Quince.
But if you take your pleasures where you find them, rather than try to wring the Shakespeare out of the production, you will have a good time. Principal among these pleasures is the astonishing Mills, who gives as fluid and plastic a performance as I have seen on Synetic’s stage, as Puck. He seems less a man, or a sprite, than he does a stick of mercury in a man’s body. He moves with the agility of a SlinkyTM. Kavsadze manages to suggest his donkey with facial expression and movement, rather than by putting on a papier-mâché head, as Bottom does in most productions. He also shows hitherto unexpected gifts for comedy. Stripped of Shakespeare’s brilliant wit, his Bottom nonetheless shows his aggressive vanity clearly. Yet there is a sort of sweetness which permeates the character as Kavsadze presents it, and in the end we realize that even fools can fall in love.
Vato Tsikurisvili, who plays the Rude Mechanical Tom Snout, continues to build on the work he did in Dante. The four young lovers are all good, and Molnar as the lacklove Helena particularly so. Irina Tsikurishvili, as Titania, does not have as demanding a role as she usually tackles, but, set in a forest of beauty, she continues to be a one-actor visual treat. Synetic is at its best when it is most playful, as when the Rude Mechanicals substitute a runthrough of Synetic’s previous wordless Shakespeares – Hamlet, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet – for the Pyramus and Thisbe rehearsal Shakespeare scripted to appear.
Anastasia Ryurikov Simes’ restrained set works, as do her beautiful costumes. Lortkipandze’s music just keeps getting better. In this production, he appears on-stage, playing a stripped-down piano and accompanied by Levan Lortipandze on flute and guitar. To paraphrase Shakespeare in a different context (and from a different play) the form is everywhere suited to the action, and the action is suited to the wordless words.
So this production has many virtues, though not, I think, the virtues Shakespeare wrote into A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Enjoy it for what it is. But if you want to see why Shakespeare’s play was so screamingly funny, I recommend the 1999 movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, Stanley Tucci as Puck, and the incredible Kevin Kline as Bottom.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare . adapted by Ben Cunis
directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
produced by Synetic Theater
reviewed by Tim Treanor
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