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Review: Dallas Theater Center Debuts at the Wyly

by Jerome Weeks 2 Nov 2009 7:12 AM

Big noisy fun but not much more: DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty opens the company’s new home with a festive ‘Midsummer.’ It pumps up the volume, it’s got balloons, graffiti art and squirt guns. Forget about anything heartfelt, though.


Cedric Neal Mathew Tompkins in Dream

Cedric Neal and Mathew Tompkins as Puck and Oberon

  • Lawson Taitte’s review in the Dallas Morning News
  • Renegade Bus compares/contrasts the DTC Midsummer and the University of Dallas Midsummer
  • KERA radio review:

  • Expanded online review:

For its debut in its new home in the Wyly Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center has taken William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — and pumped up the volume.

[music from Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down”]

Despite his efforts with adding music to the play, Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty hasn’t really made a musical comedy out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

He’s made a dance party re-mix.

Moriarty uses big pop hits – like “Knock You Down” by Keri Hilson and “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas – to inject a lot of high energy into this Midsummer. And he’s got youthful energy here as well. He’s filled out the cast with students from Southern Methodist University and Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School. So Shakespeare’s magical comedy of troubled lovers and troublesome fairies undergoes a kind of urban dance club overhaul. We get bubble machines, squirt guns, graffiti art and lots of audience participation.

This Midsummer is colorful, it’s physical, it’s fast. But it also lacks subtlety — to say the least. Moriarty has seriously cut and re-written Shakespeare’s text. In perhaps his biggest change, he’s dropped the entire sub-plot of the changeling child, the cause of the break-up of Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies. He covers this hole, for instance, by replacing the words “Indian boy” — a reference to the child — with “donkey boy,” an unmetrical joke about Bottom being turned into an ass.

Other changes are more trivial, which actually makes them puzzling on occasion. Why does Bottom announce that the play he and his fellow mechanicals have devised for the nuptial feast at the end is not “preferred” — Shakespeare’s original term — but “chosen”? What difference does it make?

In any event, I don’t object to cutting Shakespeare on principle. It’s far more significant that in his direction, Moriarty has streamlined the characters and emotions of any darkness or doubts. This Midsummer‘s pell-mell race never pauses, never complicates. We don’t encounter much that’s truly heartfelt or thoughtful. By the end, passion’s blindness, the bitter war between the sexes, these all get quickly resolved with Nerf guns. Would that we could.

Matthew Tompkins and Liz Mikel do manage one tender moment when they reconcile as the quarreling fairy king and queen. Kudos to them. Cedric Neal and Abby Seigworth are also likable as Puck and Helena. And once again, we get to enjoy Neal’s terrific singing voice, previously showcased in last year’s Tommy.

But we’re more aware of these actors’ exertions as triathletes. Moriarty shows off the Wyly’s many levels and stairs by turning the space into an elaborate aerobicise center. The frantic cast runs and clambers and spins and climbs.

And then they dance-dance-dance.

[music from I Gotta Feeling – including the exhortation, “Jump on that sofa.”]

“Jump on that sofa.” Yes, this is a celebration — and a welcome one. With the Wyly, the Theater Center has a new home at last. Moriarty uses Shakespeare’s royal wedding party (and the blessing of the house) at the end of Midsummer to mark the occasion. The play may well have been written for an aristocratic wedding; the rituals chime with the moment at the Wyly. He’s also cast Robyn Flatt as Egeus, a mother of one of the young lovers (originally, Egeus is a father). Flatt, of course, is the head of the Dallas Children’s Theater. She’s also the daughter of Paul Baker. He was the founding artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, and he died last Sunday. So the theater company’s past and its future are wedded here.

But by the end, one begins to feel less a sense of joy than of overkill. Chamblee Ferguson (left, with Liz Mikel) is one of our finest local actors, and he plays Bottom, Shakespeare’s great and touching comic creation. (As a member of the amateur acting company that puts on a play for the royal wedding feast, Bottom is also Shakespeare’s most significant font of acting lore outside of Hamlet — not for nothing is the gentle Bottom rewarded with a most rare vision that he also, poignantly, loses.) But when Bottom must perform his tragical-comical-heroical death in the play, Moriarty has Ferguson die again and again and again, trying to top each death scene with something ever more outlandish. It’s classic comic shtick and a bravura moment for Ferguson, but it’s more than a little hammered home.

And then Moriarty actually has Marcus Mauldin as Flute, the bellows-mender, try to top that.

This betrays a certain —  insecurity. As with the climbing and the comedy, Moriarty can’t seem to leave well enough alone, doesn’t trust the text: The audience is being pummeled into enjoyment. After all, it’s one thing to end Midsummer – as Shakespeare himself does – with a collective physical release, a welcome dance number. Moriarty provides two dance numbers. Then a third, then a fourth and then the balloons cascade down — like the ending of a prom dance.

I don’t intend it as condescending when I recommend the Dallas Theater Center’s production to any parent who has a young teen they want to introduce to Shakespeare. This Midsummer is big, noisy fun. Shakespeare’s most poetic romantic comedy has been turned into a clattering, knockabout farce — with dance grooves.

But is that all that Midsummer should be? Considering what Shakespeare has to say about love and madness, about marriage and sexual warfare, is big, noisy fun – enough?

[music from “I’m Yours”]

  • TB

    If you go to this production, be prepared to have fun. Capital-A “Art,” it’s not. but it is immensely enjoyable and energetic. I hope for and expect deeper fare from DTC and Kevin Moriarity in the future. For this show, just relax and enjoy.

  • Theater Lover

    Thank you for being kind and honest. We all had such hopes for this opening production, and yet it was poorly executed as if the director did not trust the actors or the material. I agree that a few moments worked and were lovely. But the beautiful poetry was slaughtered and cluttered with entirely too much shouting and running around for the sake of running around. Cedric has such a dynamic presence and lovely voice, why not allow him to sing through out the play instead of four songs at the end? The ending was too similar to the Tommy ending for my taste. I do hope the Dallas Theater Center matures with the rest of the season.

  • Cris

    I totally agree. I enjoyed the youthful energy of the play at first, but by the end it was starting to feel overdone, dare I say a little self-indulgent? This version of the play was not about Shakespeare but more about “Look what we can do with Shakespeare in our new shiny theater.” It was a fun amuse-bouche, but let’s hope there is more substantial (and more thoughtful) plays in store.

    And they really could get some kinks out of the Wyly too. More seats in the lobby, please, and more people to help with the lines at the intermission.

  • Buddy

    You shouldn’t expect a award winning theater with this performance, but the show was a lot of fun.

    Some of it was overdone, but this is a celebration! DTC has a new home! Everyone gets a little over the top in the best of times.

    If you can let go a little you will enjoy this performance.