I got so preoccupied with the latest chapter of my Balanchine book (which is now polished to a fare-thee-well) that I forgot to post the weekly teaser to my Friday Wall Street Journal theater column! Apologies. Today I wrote about Propeller’s all-male production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Edward Hall and playing at BAM Harvey through March 28, and Tim Robbins’ Embedded, now showing at the Public Theater.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is pure bliss:
Everyone knows that in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare’s plays were performed by companies of men and boys, but it’s one of those snippets of historical knowledge we tend to file and forget. Not only are Mr. Hall and company well aware of it, but they make the most of it without ever stooping to heavy-handed sexual sermonizing: Hippolyta (Emilio Doorgasingh) is attired in Milton Berle-style drag, while Helena and Hermia (Robert Hands and Jonathan McGuinness) duke it out like a pair of roller-derby queens on the rampage. The cheery atmosphere even extends to the intermission, during which the entire cast strolls out to the lobby and leads the audience in a sing-along (they did the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” on opening night).
Yet the members of Propeller are no less alert to the chiming music of Shakespeare’s verse, and no sooner has the wreckage of “Pyramus and Thisby” been carted away than they work one final feat of theatrical prestidigitation and modulate into the sweet solemnity of the last scene, with Puck (Simon Scardifield) speaking the epilogue so simply and benevolently that I forgot to breathe. Suddenly the lights came up and I found myself back in the real world. I hated to go home….
Embedded isn’t, and not just because of its fact-twisting, either:
You’d think a satire about Gulf War II would have tried to be laughworthy, and I suppose Mr. Robbins did his best, but in the whole of “Embedded” there are just two clever touches, both involving the American journalists who covered the war. They’re put through basic training by Col. Hardchannel (V.J. Foster), a brass-voiced drill instructor who in private life is a musical-comedy buff with a taste for Stephen Sondheim, and the military press conferences they attend are accompanied by canned Muzak, to which they gently sway in unison.
Save for those two tiny oases of wit, “Embedded” is a desert of agitprop clich