I am not a Shakespeare Snob. I appreciate a good modernization every now and again (especially a film version with Radiohead on the soundtrack) under one condition: the piece in question must actually be written by William, himself. Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, a production performed annually by the drilling compaNY, did not live up to this simple expectation. But at least my date and I got to touch up on our scoffing skills.
What at first warranted a half-chuckle – Lysander (played by blonde-pretty-boy Jordan Feltner) telling Hermia (blonde-pretty-girl Eileen Townsend) to meet him at Le Poisson Rouge, for refuge – was overplayed before we even got to the end of the second act, from Helena (Christine Dunn) crying “In Soho, I was not as fair as she” to Oberon (Ron Dreyer) proclaiming “thou shalt know him by the Uptown garments he has on.”
“We get it,” my date whispered. “The goddamn play is set in-” Her words, and the actor’s dialogue, were drowned out by a car alarm going off in the back of the parking lot.
But not only were the constant New York references kitschy, they were also inconsistent: Hermia speaks of escaping “Athenian law” and references to the forest are followed by talk of the L train. Furthermore, the modernizing elements of the performance – Quince (David Stadler), for example, reading the cast of Pyramus and Thisbe off his iPhone and pausing to wait for the email to load – did nothing to ground the play in a specific era; The fairies looked like Thriller extras, Oberon’s minions belonged in The Warriors, and Demetrius (Jasper Stoffer) was dressed for a 40s themed party at the McKibbin Street lofts.
The best part of the production, by far, was watching confused Asian American men cross the open lot, nearly dropping their groceries as they stared wide eyed at the 80’s-backup-dancer forest nymphs, who pranced around the stage chanting Titania (Selena Beretta) a “lul-ul-ul-ul-ul-aby” over and over, and consequently making a scene that was intended to be extremely brief last over four minutes.
It was much more difficult to determine the worst part. There was the pacing, which dragged as the actor’s slowly and egotistically recited their lines, as if they were all the main characters, and then there were the fairy dance-off interludes that served no purpose other than to show off their mad skills (admittedly, they really did have mad skills). And then there was the love potion, which was really bacon scented air freshener. Though maybe that was actually the best part.
For what it’s worth, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was entirely devoid of pretension – from the lawn chairs, to the “backstage” area, which was really just a camping tent, to the set, which only consisted of wooden crates and a banner backdrop that said “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot” in graffiti. For this reason, I feel a tad bit terrible critiquing it so harshly. But, I mean, c’mon, it’s Shakespeare, and who really wants unpretentious Shakespeare? Well, not me, apparently.
(photo credit: twobags via Flickr)