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September 12, 2008

TT: Into the woods (again)

I review two shows in this week's Wall Street Journal drama column, one in Connecticut and one in New York: Hartford Stage's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the York Theatre Company's off-Broadway revival of Enter Laughing: The Musical. Both are excellent. Here's an excerpt.

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598930_height370_width560.jpegIf it's summer, somebody's doing "A Midsummer Night's Dream." I've seen two very different productions in the past two weeks, and I'd hate to have to choose between them. Fortunately, art isn't sports, so I'm not required to pick a winner. Suffice it to say that Connecticut's Hartford Stage, like Wisconsin's American Players Theatre before it, has done exceptionally well by Shakespeare's best-loved comedy.

Lisa Peterson, a well-established director whose work is new to me, has put a winningly new spin on the timeless tale of two troubled young couples who wander into an enchanted wood, run into a gaggle of mischief-making fairies and emerge unscathed and happy. In Ms. Peterson's modern-dress version, the mere mortals reside in the never-never land of '50s family sitcoms, while Fairyland is a cross between "Peter Pan" and "Lord of the Flies," a land of raucous, grubby-faced children who speak and sing in unison and tumble about the stage with unholy glee.

Sometimes a set makes a show, and Rachel Hauck, who designed the Pissarro-influenced production of "The Winter's Tale" that I saw and loved at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival two seasons ago, has outdone herself this time around. Her d├ęcor is simple--a forest, a small platform, a window that seems to float in mid-air and a trapdoor that is put to ingenious use--but magical....

Remember Carl Reiner? You do if you owned a TV back in the days when he was a regular and welcome presence on "Your Show of Shows" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Now Mr. Reiner is an elder statesman of comedy, and the York Theatre Company, which usually specializes in small-scale Off-Broadway mountings of new musicals, has revived "Enter Laughing," the 1976 musical version of his semi-autobiographical 1958 novel about David Kolowitz (Josh Grisetti), a geeky, star-struck kid from the Bronx who longs to become an actor. It's a charmer, cleverly staged and choreographed by Stuart Ross ("Forever Plaid") and acted by the best cast in town....

Mr. Ross' cast includes such familiar faces as Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, formerly of "L.A. Law," and George S. Irving, the oldest of old pros, who made his Broadway debut in the original cast of "Oklahoma!" and appeared 33 years later in the original cast of "So Long, 174th Street," as "Enter Laughing: The Musical" was originally known. Then as now, Mr. Irving plays Harrison Marlowe, a plummy-voiced, deeply fraudulent director who casts David in his new show, and every word that comes out of his mouth is a joy to hear.

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted September 12, 2008 12:00 AM

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