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Reviewed by:
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Barbara Ann Lukacs
A Midsummer Night's Dream Presented by the McCarter Theatre, Princeton, New Jersey, and the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey. March 21-April 9, 2006 and April 19-May 21, 2006. Directed by Tina Landau. Original music composed and performed by GrooveLily. Set by Louisa Thompson. Costumes by Michael Krass. Lighting by Scott Zielinski. Sound Design by Michael Bodeen and Roy Milburn. Aerial Design by Christopher Harrison and AntiGravity Inc. With Valerie Vigoda (Robin Starveling), Brendan Milburn (Tom Snout), and Gene Lewin (Snug), Jay Goede (Theseus, Oberon), Ellen McLaughlin (Hippolyta, Titania), Guy Adkins (Puck, Philostrate), James Martinez (Lysander), Will Fowler (Demetrius), Stacey Sargeant (Hermia), Brenda Withers (Helena), Lea DeLaria (Nick Bottom), Demond Green (Francis Flute), Stephen Payne (Egeus, Quince), Karl Christian (Peaseblossom, Attendant), Jesse Nager (Cobweb), Ryan Overberg (Moth, Attendant), Reginald Holden Jennings (Mustardseed), Christopher Mai (Fairy, Attendant), Adam Lobato (Attendant).

What happens when New Jersey's premier classical theatre, McCarter Theatre in Princeton, and New Jersey's premier musical theatre, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, want to collaborate on a production that will have consecutive runs and will be successful in both venues? A production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that was not a musical, but rather Shakespeare set to music, met the requirements. The play was faithfully presented, with minor cuts, and Shakespeare's songs were used as the lyrics for the original music created by the eclectic rock/traditional/jazz/classical trio GrooveLily. The group consists of classically-trained violinist Valerie Vigoda playing a six-string electric violin, keyboardist Brendan Milburn, and percussionist Gene Lewin.

Director Tina Landau said she read the text from GrooveLily's point of view and conceived the production as their dream; thus, GrooveLily framed the play, dreamed the play, and everything issued from their music. Focusing on the importance of the songs and music suggested in Shakespeare's text, Landau created a production rooted in the mystery of music and dreams. Midsummer opened with the trio of musicians alone on stage, asleep at their instruments. They were on three raised platforms, surrounded by a shadowbox-like frame in what resembled a recording studio. Initially, with the unsure motion of a somnambulist, the violin bow [End Page 106] and the violinist's arm were lifted slowly, haltingly, up from their resting positions. It was as if some greater power, some unseen puppeteer, was jerking them upwards; the violinist was like a marionette slowly coming to life in a dream world—a world ruled by dream logic and dream consciousness. Appropriately, the violinist was the first to "awake" into this dream, since she was the bearer of the melody. She played a discordant harmony on the inner two strings of the violin: a siren call to the other musicians to arise and join her in this world of reverie. Next, the keyboardist stirred and joined in the musical setting, adding a second melody and harmony. Finally, the drummer, the driving rhythmic force in the play, joined in, his sticks being raised like the violin bow and dropped onto the drum heads. With the addition of the percussion, the players and the audience entered the dream world and the play began.

The sense that the players were puppets under the control of some greater power was reinforced by the "shadowbox" frame of black panels that formed a stage-within-a-stage, like a puppet theatre. To add to this theatrical illusion, the violinist was lifted to the life of the dream world by a string that raised her upwards from her seat. Her chair then ascended into the unknown in the first of the many fantastic aerial effects that were used in the production. An unseen being was controlling this dream world, namely Puck, who, according to Landau, "springs" from the violin bow, and whose face popped out through a wall panel behind the trio. Puck was the mischievous orchestrator of the play. For example, when he wanted the mortals to do his bidding, such as roll over when they were asleep, he "conducted" them to do so. When he wanted them to sleep, with a flourish of his hand he indicated...


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