Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: Hartford Stage, Hartford Symphony Collaborate on Dreamy Midsummer Night

The cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Alan Grant
A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare
with Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 21 and 61 by Felix Medelssohn
Presented by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and Hartford Stage
Conductor: Carolyn Kuan
Stage Director: Darko Tresnjak
with the Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus, Gabriel Lofvall, artistic director
Amanda Hall, Jamilyn Manning-White, sopranos

Jan. 10-12, Belding Theater, The Bushnell, Hartford

What's it All About?
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra (70) and Hartford Stage (50) are celebrating their birthdays with a collaboration of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hartford Stage Artistic Director directs a lively stage version of the bard's tale of faeries and love with a top-notch cast which takes place on stage in front of a full Hartford Symphony Orchestra with Music Director Carolyn Kuan conducting Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for the piece (Op. 21 and 61). The evening is part concert, part dramatic presentation, a perfect marriage (complete with Mendelssohn's bridal march) for Tresnjak, whose expertise extends to Shakespeare and opera. The play is trimmed down to fit with the musical pieces to clock in at a two-hour-15 minute run time with intermission.

What are the Highlights?
An insightful, humorous interpretation of the play with playful interaction at times between actors and the orchestra. Grant Goodman (Theseus/Oberon), Celeste Ciulla (Hippolyta/Titania), Michael Preston (Egeus/Peter Quince), Kaliswa Brewster (Hermia), Timothy Longo (Lysander), Jacob Gannon (Demetrius), Curtis Billings (Bottom), Andrew Patrick Mazer (Puck) and the rest of the ensemble shine, but really standing out, once again, is Kate MacCluggage, making us laugh with her Helena. Can we just give her a resident contract at Hartford Stage? She has been delightful in everything she has done here, from Bell, Book and Candle, to Twelfth Night to Macbeth. Excellent lighting (by Hartford Symphony Orchestra Technical Director Kenneth Trestman, uncredited in the program) provides subtle changes with scenes, spotlights for the soloists up in the boxes in the house and shadowy trees on the backdrop. (OK, full disclosure, Ken is a friend, but I had noted the excellent lighting before discovering he was responsible for it).

What are the Lowlights?
It takes a while to get into the concept. The program begins with a lengthy musical piece played by the orchestra. It all seems like a regular concert. Suddenly, actors appear and begin Midsummer to the rustle of programs being shuffled as people check to see whether they are in the right auditorium (many said they did not realize they would be seeing a play). Once the music and play start to merge, particularly in the second act, and where music underscores text, or where it comes in on cue, we begin to see what a dream production this really is. Lines like "Go, bid the huntsmen wake them with their horns" delightfully are met with response by the orchestra's horn section, which is in particularly good form throughout the concert.

The seesaw. There's a large metal seesaw on which the actors walk, sit and totter. It's awkward and blocks the view of the orchestra, though, as well as the musician's view of the action in front of them, as some crouch below it to get a better view. A better solution would have been a bridge up above the orchestra to provide additional stage space and dimension.

More information:

Friday, Jan. 10  at 8 pm
Saturday, Jan.11 at 8 pm
Sunday, Jan. 12 at 3 pm

There will be a pre-concert chat led by Kuan one hour prior to each performance.

Tickets range in price from $35.50-$67.50. Student tickets are $10. On Saturday, Jan.11, $25 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under. 860-244-2999;
-- Lauren Yarger

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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