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Review: The Seeing Place Addresses LGBTQIA+ Issues Through Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

The 10-year-old Off-Off Broadway company streams a new production to benefit The Ali Forney Center

Back in pre-COVID New York, barely a midsummer weekend would go by without a theatre company somewhere presenting an outdoor production of Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in whatever garden, meadow or parking lot would offer a permit. When you add the countless indoor productions, the Bard's merry mixture of comedy, romance and fantasy - offering numerous juicy roles for a talented ensemble - is doubtlessly one of his most enduringly popular pieces.

Review: The Seeing Place Addresses LGBTQIA+ Issues Through Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Top: William Ketter and Erin Cronican, Bottom:
Weronika Helena Wozniak and Ellinor DiLorenzo

Helping to fill the current void, The Seeing Place Theater, now in its tenth season, offers indeed a talented ensemble of actors in a delightful late-summer mounting made for Zoom. After a two-performance livestreamed run, a video recording is now available for viewing through September 5th at SeeingPlaceTheater.com.

Proceeds benefit The Ali Forney Center, which assists homeless LGBTQ youth, many of whom were abandoned by their families for being who they are. This tragic reality is reflected in the way co-directors/digital designers Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican (who are, respectively, the company's Producing and Executive Artistic Directors) have cast the story.

The opening scene, set as preparations are being made for the marriage of Athenian Duke Theseus (Walker) to Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Laura Clare Browne), still has Egeus (Jon L. Peacock) threatening to have his daughter Hermia (Ellinor DiLorenzo) either killed or sent away to live as a nun for refusing to marry his pick for a son-in-law, Demetrius (William Ketter). But now Lysander, written by Shakespeare as the man Hermia loves, is played by Weronika Helena Wozniak, with the character's pronouns changed to she/her.

The father's attempt to break up their same-sex relationship with convent residency suggests the contemporary concept of being sent to conversion therapy, and when Hermia and Lysander escape into the forest to seek the protection of a sympathetic relative, circumstances threaten the pair with homelessness.

With the characters divided into three separate groups who do a minimal amount of mingling, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM easily lends itself to multiple casting, so members of the 8-member ensemble each play two or three roles, with digital backgrounds and displays of character names helping viewers keep track.

Inspired by the legendary Group Theatre, The Seeing Place aims for an "organic, edgy American style of acting", evident by such turns as Cronican's comically lovesick presentation of Helena, dumped by Demetrius but determined to win him back, matched with her focused, businesslike portrayal of Peter Quince, the leader of a group of amateur players hoping their modest theatrical venture will be accepted as part of the royal wedding entertainment.

Review: The Seeing Place Addresses LGBTQIA+ Issues Through Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Top: Jon L. Peacock and William Ketter
Bottom: Laura Clare Browne and Brandon Walker

As Fairy King Oberon, whose magical mischief creates havoc among the humans, Walker sports digital eyeglasses that spark with lightning and growls with the over-the-top arrogance of a pro-wrestler. Laura Clare Browne wryly plays off the actor with flat non-amusement as Fairy Queen Titania (a bit reminiscent of Audrey Meadows' Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners) until she turns syrupy coquettish when her husband places her under a spell, assisted by the sprite Puck, played with laid-back jauntiness by Peacock. Walker and Peacock both note their own gender-fluidity in their bios and program notes instruct us to see Oberon and Puck as non-binary.

Cast members are only seen in head and shoulders shots in their individual sections of the screen, so when Dan Mack's hammy Bottom, the weaver who tries making the amateur stage production all about him, is also victimized by Fairy magic, his physical transformation into a symbolic animal is achieved with digital cartoon visuals while the actor supplies enthused vocal embellishment.

While New Yorkers and tourists are wondering when Broadway theatres will open again, the city's small resident companies are also being hit hard, though artists like those of The Seeing Place seem determined to keep Gotham's creative juices flowing remotely until they can once again greet their audiences live.

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