If theatre is supposed to make you laugh, cry, and want to discuss what you’ve watched, then Keith Grant’s marriage of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It this past weekend was the model of what an exceptional work of theatre looks like. Shakespeare’s timeless and masterful text joined with Grant’s bold and non-conforming vision birthed an inspiring and thought-provoking work of art that was one of the best shows the Theatre Department has produced in the last five years.
This production had a “less is more” quality that did the text justice. Oft, the mention of anything Shakespeare-related brings forth thoughts of men in white stockings and women in tight corsets and whale bone dresses. Grant’s creative team stayed far away from those clichés—the show didn’t even have a set designer; the stage’s playing space only had a couple of black blocks and some lights. The minimal set allowed the actors to convey their locations through movement and actions, which they did successfully. As for costumes, designer Mary Myers took care to make both plays unique. The primary color used in As You Like It was white until Rosalind and Celia became Ganymede and Aliena in the Forest of Arden—then their costumes had color, which set them apart from everyone else. Conversely, A Midsummer Night’s Dream had an erotic, sadomasochistic theme that was the polar opposite of the innocence exhibited in the former play. Myers filled the stage with dominatrices that highlighted the sexual undertones that were on the forefront of Grant’s directorial concept.
After watching this Shakespearean conglomerate, I wondered why, during my four years at the college, had Grant not directed any plays. His adaptation of these plays was a masterpiece; his choices never drifted from his objective of challenging conventions, and my first hint of this was his casting some males for female roles and females for male roles. Edgar Cancinos played a beautiful Rosalind in As You Like It; his presence on stage was graceful, his actions were clear and committed, and his chemistry with Ismael Castillo (Orlando) was so believable that it struck all of my emotional chords. If Cancinos and Castillo had any challenges building their chemistry, it was not noticeable—on stage, they were in love.
Saying that Grant’s production was successful is an understatement—this play was amazing. Visually, it was cohesive, aurally, it was attractive, and textually, well, it’s Shakespeare, which, if you read any of his plays more than once, you will undoubtedly learn something new about a character or come up with different reasoning behind Shakespeare’s choices.
I’ve read As You Like It, but seeing it on stage was a completely different experience. Grant focused on gender roles and when you consider the fact that Shakespeare’s plays were performed using only men and boys, the use of males as females is not the revolutionary part of Grant’s direction—it was the use of females as males, which added to the success of this production, because it was a defiance against the stereotypical opinion that men are big and fearless. Grant’s male characters had a soft and vulnerable quality to them, which was great to see.
Of course, this stellar production is not without flaws, however minimal they may be. At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all the fairies ran onto the stage and one of them, played by Paulette Marks, took the microphone and began to yell unintelligibly. It seemed that she was attempting to stop the massive orgy that was happening on stage, but her motives for the intervention were unclear. Grant’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream seemed to promote “free love.” An example of this was when Oberon kissed the Indian Boy, which was an addition by Grant. Being that Oberon was the leader of the fairies, it would be logical if the fairies held his same views, which is why Paulette’s final rant was confusing, and unnecessary.
If the show was still running, I would advise every single person to buy a ticket for it because it was the best ninety-minute trip I’ve ever been on, and I foresee that it is a production that is going to be talked about for a long time in the CCNY community.
Final Verdict: 9/10