March 24, 2005
THEATER REVIEW | 'FOOLS IN LOVE'
Doo-Wopping a Midsummer Dream
Ryan Knowles, Tom
Falborn and Louis Reyes Cardenas in "Fools in Love," an abbreviated
version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
have seen a few productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," beginning with
Peter Brook's in 1971. On film, I have seen
Mickey Rooney as Puck,
Calista Flockhart as Helena and
Rupert Everett as Oberon. But never has it all been clearer to me than
when I watched the Millennium Talent Group's simplified one-act version,
"Fools in Love," at the Wings Theater in Greenwich Village.
"Fools in Love" is intended to introduce children to
Shakespeare, and it does the job with exaggeration, pure silliness and
1950's and 60's pop music. The comedy is set in the era of "Happy Days"
and poodle skirts, in a
California town called West
Athens, where four teenagers hang out at a diner and discuss their
romantic problems and plans. Hermia (Erika Villalba) loves Lysander (Matt
Schuneman) but is being pressured to marry Demetrius (Antony Raymond). On
the sidelines, Helena (Annelise Abrams) pines for Demetrius, who finds her
completely unappealing and tells her so.
When Hermia and Lysander decide to elope, they find themselves the
victims of mischievous fairies. Oberon (Andy Langton, in a black leather
jacket with macho black wings) obviously has nothing better to do than
play tricks on humans and on his beloved Titania (Margaret Curry).
Spellbound by a magic herb, the victims wake up from naps to fall in
love with unexpected objects: Titania with Bottom (Ryan Knowles), a weaver
who has been turned into a donkey, and both Lysander and Demetrius with
Helena. Helena has such low self-esteem that she believes both young men
are just ridiculing her by pretending to want her.
There's no real need for a Greek chorus, but five singers known as
the Doo-Wop Group comment on the action frequently with mostly a cappella
excerpts from golden oldies like "Duke of Earl," "Baby Love," "Respect,"
"My Guy" and of course "All I Have to Do Is Dream." D. J.
Paris, making his
New York stage debut, does a particularly nice job on "Unchained Melody."
Sarah Rosenberg and Louis Reyes Cardenas, who are credited with the
show's conception, have kept Shakespeare's language (accented with an
occasional "huh?" or "oh, all right"), letting young theatergoers grasp
meaning through context.
It's nice to see a cast of all shapes and sizes. The full-figured
Ms. Villalba is highly lovable as Hermia, and when she calls Helena a
"painted maypole," she strikes a blow for all women over size 10. The very
skinny Brandy Wykes has an endearing "Laugh-In"-era
Goldie Hawn quality as Puck. The very tall Mr. Knowles has a lot of fun
with physical comedy as Bottom. And then there are the smallest
performers, children from the audience who are invited on stage to dance
and occasionally speak a line or two. Warning: the actors have been known
to force a pink wig on small volunteers.
"Fools in Love" runs through April 9
at the Wings Theater, 154 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, (212)