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May   3

A Midsummer Night's Beefcake

Paper Mill Playhouse
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Through May 21. More info here.


One of the great things about Shakespeare is that no matter how many symbols, periods and gimmicks you load onto his plays, he bears the burden willingly, even cheerfully. Such is the case with Tina Landau’s rollicking adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse through May 21. (If you don’t remember your Shakespeare, you can find the plot here.)

Landau’s version is a mostly but not entirely modern-dress musical comedy. Some of the tricks work. Some don’t. But even when they start to wear thin, Shakespeare is always available to come to the rescue. Especially when he gets help from Lea DeLaria as Nick Bottom.

Casting a woman as Bottom is an invitation to ponder gender, sex roles and sexuality. Is this Bottom a man who happens to be played by a woman? Is she a woman disguised as a man to help her pick up women? (What, after all, is more butch than a fireplug of a girl dressed as a garbageman?) Is Bottom simply beyond gender, like Saturday Night Live’s Pat?

None of this really matters when DeLaria gets going. In her rendition, Nick Bottom seizes control of the stage and absolutely refuses to let go, channeling Jackie Gleason, John Belushi, Curly Howard, Elvis Presley and a few I probably missed.

The music comes from an engaging pop/rock/folk trio called GrooveLily. Most of the songs are Shakespeare’s. Some were actually written as songs, though the tunes have been lost. GrooveLily’s own songs, opening each half of the play, are a little front-and-center for my taste. But their transformation of Bottom and Co.’s rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe into a rock opera is delightful.

Other performances of note:

  • Ellen McLaughlin plays two queens – Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Titania, Queen of the Fairies, with equal dexterity. All steel as the first, all elegance as the second.
  • McLaughlin and Jay Goede’s Oberon have a fine Noel Coward vibe.
  • Brenda Withers does wonderful things with Helena, striking just the right notes of comic self-abasement.
  • We’ve all had dreams where we’re dressed all wrong. This is a Dream that takes full advantage. Sometimes I thought I was watching A Midsummer Night’s Beefcake, between the Speedo-equivalents worn by Puck (Guy Adkins) and Titania’s fairy retinue, and the tendency of the male lovers to start shedding their clothes to demonstrate the depth of their love. Maybe this is what offended the conservative crowd that frequents the Paper Mill. The night we went, we saw more than a dozen muttering patrons leave at intermission, summed up by the overheard plaint of one: ``Bring back `Oklahoma!’ ‘’

    If you like your Shakespeare in robes, tights and clipped British accents, this is not your show. For the rest of us, it’s more than worth a look.                Warren Levinson

      May 3, 2006 in Theater | Permalink


      though has blinded me, young player, with thine crimson speedo.

      Posted by: Katie | May 3, 2006 4:37:50 PM

      thou, rather. haha.

      Posted by: Katie | May 3, 2006 4:38:25 PM

      that's what Ice used to look like back in his hayday...(ok, maybe in my dreams)

      Posted by: Iceman | May 3, 2006 4:46:55 PM

      Ice, you looked like a cross between the thug in the movie version of "The DaVinci Code" and a muscular version of Tom Petty? When, in the 18th century?

      (I'm not quite sure I'm going to forgive the stuff about Mazie's bloomers on my head, fellow.)

      Posted by: cathar | May 3, 2006 6:11:30 PM

      He looks kinda Clockwork Orange-ish.

      Posted by: Miss Martta | May 3, 2006 8:20:43 PM

      LOL - you are right. And I can hear David Bowie in the background....

      Posted by: Anne Prince | May 3, 2006 8:24:53 PM

      Notice that Ice said "hayday," not "heyday." That's where the "in my dreams" part comes from.

      Posted by: crank | May 3, 2006 8:29:24 PM

      Maybe he worked on a farm. ;-)

      Posted by: Miss Martta | May 3, 2006 8:38:56 PM

      If it's Clockwork-Orangish, Beethoven would be playing in the background.

      Posted by: jennnnn | May 3, 2006 8:44:17 PM

      Hal rocks!

      Posted by: Iceman | May 3, 2006 8:45:43 PM

      Ice baby. you need some sun. and a more flattering choice of chapeau and undergarments. the color is not you.

      why didn't they show your feet?

      Posted by: pissant | May 4, 2006 8:08:02 AM

      some things are better left to the imagination

      Posted by: Iceman | May 4, 2006 8:38:13 AM

      This was a terrific show, and I am not a big fan of Shakespeare. Very modern and entertaining.

      Posted by: MadBrian | May 4, 2006 9:07:13 AM

      I haven't even read this post yet. I just saw that picture. All I can say is "woo hoo"! Where can I get tickets?

      Posted by: Resa | May 4, 2006 1:23:31 PM

      Maybe he heard about this:


      Posted by: Miss Martta | May 4, 2006 1:26:33 PM

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