From Nov. 14 to 18, while some students were studying numbers, working on scientific projects or learning foreign languages in Baruch College’s 23rd Street Building, other students were creating magic in Baruch’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Baruch’s very own Christopher Scott and presented at the Bernie West Theatre by the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, this production turns ancient Athens into a 1980s city somewhere in Long Island. Set designer Erick Creegan transports the audience into the era with Keith Harring-inspired doodles on the walls, graffiti and wooden panels reminiscent of beach loungers one expects to find in the Hamptons. The show is so stereotypically set in the 1980s that it is almost wearing fishnets and humming a Cyndi Lauper tune. Add to that Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” concert overture, and the audience is welcomed into the world of a production that promises to be uplifting and joyful.
The play centers around four lovers who are engaged in a peculiar love geometrical shape. Hermia, portrayed by Sendie Brunard, and Lysander, portrayed by Tomas Anderson, are in love and want to be together forever. Hermia’s father Egeus, played by Michael Schulz, desires his child to marry Demetrius, played by Paul Terry, who is also madly in love with Hermia. To add on to that, Helena, Hermia’s friend portrayed by Elizabeth Elking, is crazy for Demetrius. This makes for a perfect recipe for a traditional romantic comedy, but only with some of the finest writing in English literature.
In order to escape Egeus, Hermia and Lysander elope into the woods, where they are chased by Demetrius and Helena. Little do the characters know that they are not alone there. The woods also serve as a rehearsal space for local theater company the Mechanicals, lead by the flamboyant director Peter Quince, played by jazzy Baruch alumnus Penny Lane.
The woods are also ruled by an eccentric royal fairy couple in the middle of a spousal crisis. King Oberon and Queen Titania are having a fight about who is more loyal. In order to win the argument, Oberon hires his right-hand assistant Puck, portrayed by Patrick Jay, to put a spell on his wife to fall in love with an animal, as well as make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. But there would be no comedy if Puck was a diligent and honest employee, and through his wicked machinations and mix-ups, the forest turns into a circus.
Working on arguably Shakespeare’s funniest comedy, Scott garnishes the cake with rapid transitions that do not let the audience catch their breath for even a second. This production is galloping like cursed donkeys into the wilderness of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. At times, chasing every possible laugh hurts the mellifluous language of the world’s most celebrated literary genius, but the fact that every joke comes out naturally makes up for the sometimes lost linguistic beauty.
The show is really driven by the passionate work of the well-put-together ensemble. The show opens with Nick Gonzalez casually strutting down the stage in tiny tennis shorts. From those very shorts to the occasional nipple slip in the Prince-inspired garment, Scott never fails to sexualize Gonzalez’s characters, which the audience thankfully indulges into. Gonzalez completely owns the stage in his scenes as both charming Oberon and Theseus, working it as if he is a cat ready to hunt a mouse. This is reminiscent of his last year’s performance in Blood Wedding. Gonzalez’s palpable yet restrained chemistry with Leslie Ivery’s Titania and Hippolyta, with her piercing eyes and grace, perfectly balances out the erratic and hormonal outbursts of the young lovers.
Anderson and Terry portray foils in a frenzied race first for Hermia, then for Helena. They dig for grotesque masculinity, which comes out almost caricature-like and provides the sharpest laughs of the night. Brunard, in her Baruch debut, provides the emotional barometer for the whole quartet, as her googly-eyed naïve character is the sunshine of the production. But it is Elkind as Helena who actually steals the show every time her character jumps on stage. As crazy and wild as her hair, Elkind’s raw bestial portrayal is borderline psychotic and delicious to watch. When she tries to seduce Demetrius, the temperature in the room shoots through the roof.
Yet the driving force of Scott’s production is the underhandy and mischievous Puck. He is one of the most beloved characters in the Shakespearean catalogue, and Jay portrays him as a punk-rock soloist straight out of a garage band who is ready to conquer the world. He dances around the stage like nobody is watching and climbs the construction poles with the ease of a monkey and the speed of a puma.
The scene when Puck transforms Nick Bottom, one of the Mechanicals, into a donkey and throws the entire show into frenzy manifests Jay’s ability to show off his best comedic chops even when there is a complete chaos on stage. Radcliff Reid, who portrays Bottom, is able to carry his status as an ass of the joke with true Shakespearean comic pride. Reid is also the most effective one from the whole cast at delivering Shakespeare’s linguistic imagery and capturing his character’s transformations in an ingenious manner.
The FPA has not done a Shakespeare production for a very long time. It is a hard to find a work by the great writer that would fit this school. Scott’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a perfect play for a school that does not always give its artistic community the credit it deserves. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fresh, funny and achieves at great lengths to both demonstrate the creative potential of Baruch’s students and attract other students to see more of what BPAC has to offer.