Midsummer : a banquet– The Play’s the Thing

Third Rail Projects, known for immersive theater, has misguidedly teamed with Food for Love offering a so-called banquet during this production. Purchase cheap seats and eat beforehand. The play’s the thing.

This young company’s abbreviated A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a romp. Director Zach Morris is equally creative with character, choreography, and use of a space handicapped by pillars (artist Willem de Kooning’s former home/studio). Manipulation of candles in faerie hands is lovely. Formal dancing captivates. The play within the play is a hoot. Characters are among us.

Victoria Rae Sook (Hippolyta) and Ryan Wuestewald (Theseus)

The stalwart, fun to watch cast play multiple roles, wield musical instruments, sing, and double as waiter/bussers.

Shakespeare’s tale parallels a story of star crossed mortals with that of feuding faeries. Hermia (Caroline Amos) and Lysander (Alex J. Gould) are in love. Her father will send her to a convent if she doesn’t marry Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales). Helena (Adrienne Paquin) desperately wants Hermia’s intended, but he won’t look her way.

Matches are further complicated when faerie Robin Goodfellow/Puck (Lauren F. Walker without an ounce of lightness or mischief) anoints the eyes of the wrong Athenians with a floral love potion.

(Clockwise from top left) Lauren F. Walker, Caroline Amos, Charles Osborne, Alex J. Gould, Adrienne Paquin and Joshua Gonzales

Meanwhile, faerie Queen Titania (a coarse Victoria Rae Sook) is feuding with King Oberon (Ryan Wuestewald, wry and magisterial in both his roles) about a changling child taking all her attention. Oberon sprinkles the potion in Titania’s eyes, whereupon she grows besotted with Bottom, the weaver who has been turned into an ass. (Charles Osborne, whose gay interpretation chews scenery as if starving.)

The third group of characters, of whom Bottom is one, consists of townspeople comically rehearsing a scenario in honor of the soon to be wed Theseus (Ryan Wuestewald) and Hippolyta (Victoria Rae Sook). Here, doubling, Caroline Amos plays Snug, the joiner; Joshua Gonzales, tinker Thomas Snout; Alex J. Gould, Flute, the bellows mender; Adrienne Paquin, carpenter, Peter Quince; Lauren F. Walker, Philostrate, Master of Revels.

When Theseus tells Hippolyta he’ll woo her with a sword, she flips him back, pinning the shocked duke against a pillar. Looking like a fish out of water, Helena flashes a leg and opens her blouse in an effort to seduce Dimitrius. The wall’s chink is between his legs. Bottom becomes an ass first in shadow behind a scrim. Couples tumble over and under one another like acrobats in slow motion. Pillars are scaled, a ladder climbed. Mesmerism is employed.

Ryan Wuestewald (Oberon)

Adrienne Paquin (Helen) is a superb comedienne with terrific timing. She knows how to use her long limbs to best effect and registers emotion truthfully, never becoming a cartoon. A glance is as effective as a glare. Shades of Carol Burnett. The actress also sings and plays guitar.

In a stroke of inspired casting, her love, Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales), is considerably shorter, creating an off kilter pair. Gonzales delivers an emotionally square-jawed/straight-laced courtier and an hysterical “Wall” as Snout in the play within the play. His expressions are priceless.

Caroline Amos (Hermia) and Alex J. Gould (Lysander)

As high spirited ingénue Hermia, Caroline Amos offers freshness, warmth, credibility. Anger feels as palpable as insistence on chastity (Poor Lysander backs up further and further down the long room.) In the role of the Lion played by Snug, the actress becomes a bespectacled rabbit in headlights.

Alex J. Gould (Lysander) moves like a dancer. He’s the kind of innately swash-bucking swain of whom every young girl dreams. Tussles with Demetrius are perfectly executed. Dialogue sounds conversational. High-pitched portrayal of the woman Thisbe becomes surprisingly poignant.

Jason Simms (set) manifests a balcony faerie bower and mid-stage, in-the-wood, focal point (achieved by clever pulleys) with imagination.

(Clockwise, from front) Charles Osborne, Lauren F. Walker, Caroline-Amos, Adrienne Paquin, Alex J. Gould and Joshua Gonzales

Costumes by Tyler M. Holland are wonderful. A mélange of Elizabethan, Victorian, contemporary and faerie, they achieve pleasing, overall aesthetic and specificity. Women’s lacey camisoles, tap pants, and leather midi skirts, sashes hung with tools indicating professions, high-waisted trousers with braces, Puck’s strappy ensemble, the lion’s twig mane and Bottom’s woven snout are but a few visual pleasures.

Sean Hagerty’s sound (nifty effects) and original music are consistently evocative without being intrusive.

Note to the prop master – no baby could fit in that basket.

The room is crowded but not unattractive. A balcony and raised platform at its far end help sightlines. Actors are always on the move among tables living up to Third Rail’s credo.

Dinner, alas, is a rip off. It’s vegetarian, portioned to feed a faerie, and not particularly tasty. We arrive to find a small plate allotted for each person, two slices of salami, an inch of cheese, two inches of watermelon, a bit of lettuce, a roll and pickles. A first glass of red or white wine comes with admission though you can buy cocktails either before performance or at intermission. The repast is served by actors during the play. Integration is nicely achieved.

Joshua Gonzales

Second course is “Faerie Kabobs,” a jelly jar of a few olives and mushrooms on toothpicks. Something called “Forest Picnic” follows – a little Japanese bowl-with-lid holding a few bites of tomato, tahini, and quinoa. Untied napkins release half a dozen cherries = “Love Bundles.” A glass of champagne is served to toast onstage weddings though no toast is forthcoming. Serve-yourself (though no one tells you) dessert consists of tiny cake lollipops in more savory than sweet flavors, leaving bitter taste.

Though the idea of a meal with the show appeals, this one is ridiculous. Don’t bother to come too early, one is kept penned in a small lobby area. Your table and seat numbers are fixed.

The show, however, is worthy. Credits, and many are due, can be found online. No one tells you this either.

Photos by Chad Batka

Opening: (Clockwise from left) Charles Osborne, Joshua Gonzales, Adrienne Paquin, Caroline Amos, and Alex J. Gould

Food of Love and Third Rail Projects present
Midsummer- a banquet
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook
Directed and Choreographed by Zach Morris
Food Design-Emilie Baltz
Café Fae    
829 Broadway
Through September 7, 2019

About Alix Cohen (972 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.