Midsummer - A Banquet: A Review
Romance is elegance in motion. It’s an action as much as it is an emotion. Romance is also palpable. It has a look, a feel, a sound, a taste. Midsummer is that time of year when the wonder that is romance fills the air. There’s magic in that time and that magic is reflected in the Food of Love and Third Rail Projects production of Midsummer: A Banquet.
The play is naturally the thing here and that play is a course by course presentation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This unique experience is brought to you by the same team that combined gastronomy and theatricality with last season’s wildly successful, and Drama Desk nominated, production of Shake & Bake: Love's Labour's Lost. This time the theatrics are cleverly directed and choreographed by Zach Morris and the savory and sweet components consist of a six-course tasting menu designed and executed lovingly by Emilie Baltz.
Midsummer: A Banquet is by nature and design a completely immersive experience. When you arrive to the theater you enter the Café Fae, the former Union Square home and studio of celebrated abstract expressionist Willem De Kooning. Upon being seated you are presented with a table teaming with an antipasto of fresh crudités, cheese, salumni, pickles, breads, and multiple spreads. All of this is accompanied by your choice of a glass of red or white wine to warm the cockles of your heart. As you imbibe some of the players are there to serve and meet your every need, others dance romantically with each other, and some croon wistful tunes.
Many consider A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be Shakespeare’s finest comedy and his truest ode to love, more so even than Romeo and Juliet. It’s not loves tragedy that rules the night here but the comical mayhem and madness of mixed messages, confused lovers, and mischievous fairies that guide this oft told tale. In fact, while being one of Shakespeare’s most read and most presented works the manuscript is freshly and skillfully adapted by Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook. They keep the action moving at an even brisker pace than usual highlighting the magic of its charms even further. They are equally blessed with an ensemble cast that works flawlessly together. They are a team of eight strong performers that are handling multiple tasks, multiple roles, and setting multiple moods all at once. They sing, they dance, they transform place and time, and they excel at every turn.
At one point a sealed mason jar is brought to you by a forest fairy. The ensemble carries other such jars filled with candles, just like the many set at everyone’s table, to mimic fireflies in flight. You open the fairy sent jar and a waft of Applewood smoke escapes overtaking your senses. Within the smoky jar are three small skewers of toasted olives, mushrooms, and a dried apricot slice. It’s here that performance and presentation collide in a wonderful olfactory moment.
This is proof positive that the foolish joy of the players and all the food that accompanies the frivolity mesh well together. The design team completes the whole. Set designer Jason Simms has a vast space to work in but a narrow place for staging to work his craft. His elegant simplicity within these confines results in a perfect execution, lighting designer Deborah Constantine does beautifully in the reverse by plying her craft to the entire space using color and light to paint the perfect settings, and costume designer Tyler M. Holland completes the world building by filling the space with visually sensuous delights in fabric and fashion.
As the play progresses bundles of love in the form of fresh fruits are delivered to your table. They are meant to be delectable, snackable, sharable finger food for when you get the love munchies. A wedding toast of sparkling wine comes later and as you exit trays of white and dark chocolate lollipops are left as a gift for your pleasure. Some are sweet and some are spicy. Much like the ways of romance. Think of them as a token from a grateful company of thespians for your attention and attendance. It is also a perfectly yummy ending to a delectable evening of true Shakespearean legerdemain.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a voting member of The Drama Desk. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
New York NY 1003
July 24 - Sept 7
$75 - $200