“Midsummer: A Banquet” is charming Shakespeare plus tapas

By Lucy Komisar

A café performance of “Midsummer Night‘s Dream” is quite a delightful way to spend any mid-summer eve. And the actors of this production, who double passing out tapas and wine to patrons, are as good as any you‘ll see on the boards. In fact, most of them have been there.

If this is an “immersive” experience, I‘m glad it doesn‘t include leaving your round black bistro table or interacting in the show. It just means the actors are close in and around you. And sometimes on platforms in the rafters, where the first welcome is staged by accordion and trumpet players. (Original music by Sean Hagerty).  Think of it as an intimate chamber performance of Shakespeare.

Ryan Wuestewald as Theseus and Victoria Rae Sook as Hippolyta, photo Chad Batka.

It‘s Athens, a place of royals and fairies. The women wear black leather skirts and white blouses, the men brown pants, black boots, suspenders.

Theseus (Ryan Wuestewald), duke of Athens, and Hippolyta (Victoria Rae Sook), queen of the Amazons, are about to be wed. But other nuptial plans are contested. The father of Hermia (Caroline Amos) wants her to marry Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales), but she prefers Lysander (Alex J. Gould).  To square the triangle, Helena (Adrienne Paquin) loves Demetrius.

Hermia and Lysander take flight into the forest. Demetrius follows in pursuit of Hermia and Helena goes after him.

The cast and Lauren F. Walker as Puck, photo Chad Batka.

Meanwhile, the fairy King Oberon (Wuestewald), is annoyed with his wife Titania (Sook), because she pays two much attention to a changeling, the infant child of a follower who has been given to her. He gets the fairy Puck (Lauren F. Walker) to squirt the juice of a magical flower in her eyes so that when she wakes, she will fall in love with the first being she sees.

And while Puck is at it, Oberon has noticed the difficulties of the two erstwhile couples and orders the potion to douse the eyes of “the Athenian.” He assumes Puck will target Demetrius, who will then fall in love with Helena.

Titania wakes to see Bottom, the craftsman, whose head is now that of an ass. Oberon is amused. But the other plan goes amiss. The flower juice lands in the eyes of Lysander, who falls for Helena. Don’t worry, there is an antidote.

Charles Osborne as Bottom and Lauren F. Walker, Alex J. Gould, Caroline Amos and Adrienne Paquin, photo Chad Batka.

My favorite character and actor is the overwrought Bottom, played by Charles Osborne. Adrienne Paquin as Helena is terrific, and also a fine singer. I loved Lauren Walker, a charmer who plays Puck with gusto and has a strong, mellow voice. In fact, everyone is good.

The direction by Zach Morris is often magical, with actors walking around with class jars lit gold and red with candles or climbing a pillar which has turned into a tree topped with a garland of leaves (set by Jason Simms). There’s a nice couples dance. Then it gets more physical, even a little slapstick, with the four lovers cavorting, jumping on tables and over each other.

For the food, the tables are set with plates of cheese, salami, veggies, dips, whole grain rolls. (Tasting menu by Emilie Baltz.) You get a glass of wine and can buy more. Premium tickets get you several other dishes, but the price isn‘t worth it. A glass with a mushroom, olive, dried apricot. Then a small bowl of beans, quinoa, tahini, tomato. Finally, actors throw out handfulls of cherries tied in cloth napkins. Everybody gets to toast the couples with champagne and wish them sweet lives with chocolate.

“Midsummer: A Banquet.” Food of Love Productions and Third Rail Projects. Written by William Shakespeare; directed and choreographed by Zach Morris. Adapted by Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook. Café Fae, 829 Broadway, bet 12 & 13th Streets, New York City. (866) 811-4111. Opened July 24; closes September 7, 2019. Seating is 15 min before curtain, if there were a curtain! Running time 2 ½ hrs. 7/30/19. Also on NY Theatre Wire.

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