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The Actors’ Shakespeare Project is back on form.  They’ve done some amazing productions over the years—a water-elemental Twelfth Night and a galleried Henriad and a Cherry Orchard so poignantly comic that I forgave them for doing it in an inaccessible venue in the wake of a blizzard.  They’d found an immense drawing-room of exactly the right period to play it in, and packed it up around the audience.  Oh, and that 2 Henry VI, with Gloucester doubling as Jack Cade as Mr. Punch. 

But they’d lost ground of late.  Last season, they did A Winter’s Tale with so few players that Mamillius had to be a small voice off.  Doesn’t work.  (The best local Twelfth Night I’ve seen had a wonderful grave child with a teddy bear, who haunted Leontes’ soliloquies.)  The ASP Hamlet last fall was swallowed by the church they played it in; their Tempest (with Prospero and Milan cross-cast) had a sadly weak Miranda and Ariel, but an absolutely cracking Caliban/Stephano/Trinculo trio.  I was getting worried.

But they’ve come back amazingly this spring.  They did a stunning bath-house Edward II, with “Vndique mors est” painted starkly on the wall behind the audience.

And I’ve just come from a lovely little Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by the Revels veteran Patrick Swanson, in which the double and triple casting works like a marvellous toy.  Oberon and Titania/Theseus and Hippolyta, of course; but also Egeus/Bottom and Philostrate/Puck; and a quartet of endlessly inventive young actors as the lovers and the rude mechanicals and their Pyramus and Thisbe avatars and the fairy court.  (The downside being that they can’t snark at themselves in their play.)  All excellent, but I was much taken with two new players.  Equiano Mosieri is a scarily enticing Oberon, all menace and mischief.  Monica Giordano as Snug is the epitome of all Helena’s insecurities; but just at the end of her performance you see her lose herself in Lion, batting and blowing and inhaling that mantle with a kittenish ferocity.  When she steps back, she’s glowing like a child with joy.  Steven Barkhimer is most of an utterly fantastic  Bottom (his me-thought-I-had is played by someone else’s arm, upholding an apple which Titania bit).  And he plays the bones, duetting with Titania on finger cymbals.  Bliss. 

The rest of the music is a cello in the gallery, and songs (their “Philomel, with melody” setting is lovely).  There’s no scenery, except a rollaway bank-whereon for the FQ and Bottom; the effects and properties are goofy, the magic flowers being trick bouquets, and Peaseblossom &c. being puppets.  Hermia’s dream, though, is amazing:  a serpent made of fairies, advancing through and through each other’s legs.

A young girl (nine? ten?) I spoke with in the intermission had had her parents bring her back a second time:  “This is my favorite play in the world.”  That’s doing Shakespeare right.

Three more performances, Saturday and Sunday

I bought a subscription to their upcoming “Downfall of Despots” season.  I hope it works.

Nine

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