In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review Eric Tucker’s Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an off-Broadway staging of Doctor Faustus. Here’s an excerpt.
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Eric Tucker and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival were made for each other. I suspected as much when Mr. Tucker, Bedlam Theatre Company’s phenomenally talented artistic director, made his Hudson Valley debut last summer with a “Two Gentlemen of Verona” in which he turned that not-quite-top-tier farce into a riotous spoof of a beach-blanket movie. Now he’s applied Bedlam’s less-is-more style—in this case, five actors, no set or props, dirt-cheap costumes and imagination without limit—to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and the results are sublime.
Mr. Tucker’s “Midsummer” put me in mind of G.K. Chesterton’s remark that a good production of this miraculous masterpiece produces “an uproarious communion between the public and the play.” That’s exactly what happens under Hudson Valley’s spacious, inviting outdoor tent when Mark Bedard, Sean McNall, Jason O’Connell, Joey Parsons and Nance Williamson take the stage and start to impersonate Shakespeare’s 20-odd characters. But while the laughter that arises from their collective antics is both explosive and irresistible, this “Midsummer” is no mere jokefest. Not since Peter Brook’s now-legendary 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company version has there been so radically original or mysteriously poetic a production of the greatest of all stage comedies. It seals Mr. Tucker’s reputation as the outstanding American classical stage director of his generation.
The conceit of the show looks simple on paper: Mr. Tucker has staged “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a dream, one from which the five players suddenly awake at night’s end. Accordingly, the action is fragmented in such a way as to suggest the ever-shifting meanings and identities of the characters in a dream, a directorial approach whose surrealism is heightened by the breathtaking quickness with which the actors jump from part to part…
Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” is one of the most famous verse plays ever written, and—in this country, at any rate—one of the least frequently staged. First produced in 1594, it was last seen on Broadway in 1937, when the 20-year-old Orson Welles turned it into a magic show whose climax was the star’s horrific descent into hell. Now Classic Stage Company is doing “Doctor Faustus” off Broadway, this time with a pop-culture idol, Chris Noth, playing the title role. Perhaps fittingly, then, CSC’s “Faustus,” directed by Andrei Belgrader, is an adaptation of the play rather than the thing itself: The script is cut, modernized, yukked up, dumbed down and generally mangled, with results that work on their own greatly diminished terms but will leave anyone who knows the text sputtering with exasperation.
Mr. Noth, best known for playing Mr. Big on “Sex and the City,” gives us a prosy Faustus who might fairly be described as Mr. Little. His performance is very much that of a TV actor, understated to a fault and devoid of expressive depth….
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To read my review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, go here.
To read my review of Doctor Faustus, go here.
The trailer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The narration is by Eric Tucker, the director: