A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Directed by Peter Dobbins Written by William Shakespeare

Stage Manager: Joe Danbusky

Produced by the Storm Theatre


Directed by Erica Schmidt

Written by Gary Mitchell

Stage Manager: Megan Smith

Produced by The Play Company at the Kirk Theatre

When a former professional football player turns actor, the inclination is to set the bar rather low.  Think O.J. Simpson as the security guard in The Towering Inferno.  For that matter, think Dr. Johnson on female preachers.

I couldn’t help myself, however, so I purchased a ticket to a production at the Storm Theatre in Times Square to see the once-explosive, virtually untackleable Hall-of-Fame fullback John Riggins utterly flop on his face in A Midsummer Night’s Dream playing, of all things, Nick Bottom.

Funny.  This offbeat guy, who sported a Mohawk haircut in the 1970’s as a New York Jet and was the bane of NFL defensive lines in the early 1980’s as he led the Washington Redskins to two Super Bowls, didn’t flop—on face or bottom.  He was superb.

Start with the first rehearsal, or, rather, discussion about rehearsal of that marvelously silly play-within-the-play, The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisby.  Riggins’ character wishes to do all the parts in the play by the “rude mechanicals” (in Elizabethan terminology, such “rude” occupations as carpenter, weaver, bellows mender, joiner, tinker, and tailor), but his is an endearing egotism that seeks to lead his fellow would-be thespians gently to their great moment at the Athenian court of Theseus.

In the middle of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titiania, Queen of the Fairies, awakens under the influence of a magic spell to find herself irresistibly attracted to the rather grotesque Bottom, who has himself been supernaturally transformed into an ass.  And his, ahem, ass is broad enough to fill the stage and rivet the attention.

His reaction to Titiania’s passionate expression of love is skeptical, to say the least: “Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that.  And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays” (Act 3, Scene 1).  Bottom here iterates that constant Shakespearean truth: the incompatibility of heart and head.

Throughout the comedy, the supernatural or metaphysical is associated with eros, because, for Shakespeare (and certainly, other great dramatists), amorous desire is irrational, remaining oblivious to parental disapproval, legal sanction, and even cruel rejection by the beloved, and desire always wins out.

Of course, love potions altering the real-life affections of the main characters makes for some almost slapstick comedic moments.  The Hermia-Helena duel would, in any staging of the play, be one such confrontation, but, on this night, there was tittering from all in the audience when budding actress and tall, stately, beautiful Miss America 1998 (yes, it was celeb night at the Storm) Kate Shindle, playing Helena, declared in Act 2, Scene 2, “I am as ugly as a bear / For beasts that meet me run away for fear.”

Miss Shindle was good, not great, in the role, which may be traceable to her performance having that studied aspect of a Miss America aspirant declaiming Keats or Emily Dickinson for that perfunctory two-minute segment in the talent run-up to the pageant’s swimsuit competition.

Once, at the end of a Reagan-era gala dinner, John Riggins, football player, decked out in tie and tux, found himself sprawled beneath the table, completely sozzled.  He looked up at Associate Justice O’Connor and said, “Loosen up, Sandy baby.”

Good advice for a Miss America.  Better advice for Sandra Day.

Someone who can always be counted on to knock back a few is Geordie, the macho lead character in North Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell’s excellent Trust.

Geordie, played brilliantly by Ritchie Coster, is no mere lager lout.  In fact, he always has his wits about him as the coolly calculating neighborhood chieftain of a Protestant paramilitary gang.

Geordie plays the game of political intrigue well, but the part of father to son Jake vexes him throughout the drama.  Geordie wants the adolescent to stand up for himself in schoolyard confrontations (as well as to drink like a man), but he will not stick up for the young man because strong-arm tactics, all too easy to command in his line of work, could bring the constabulary down hard on him and his cell of activists.  So, home life festers, despite the fact that Pop is always grabbing the missus for a quick smooch on those occasions when the soccer match or Britcom on the telly aren’t enough to distract.

Yet he can never be in a clinch for long, because his political family spends as much time in the house as his real one.  Seeking favors, deals, trying to stay on his good side are Julie, the good-time girl with the British soldier boyfriend willing to steal weapons from his own base to sell to Geordie for the money to keep Julie; Artty, his sidekick and accomplice in the effort to make their idea of a man out of Jake; and the dimwit ex-con Trevor, a combustible mix of servility and uncontrollable temper who is really into “orange,” you might say: He has “UDA” (Ulster Defence Association) tattooed into the side of his neck.

If you can get past the almost constant use of a once-shocking Anglo-Saxonism—and who can’t, because that’s the unfortunate way they speak throughout the British Isles today, to the disappointment of my rampant literary and historical Anglophilia—this is a heck of a play that builds to an entirely unanticipated and, indeed, terrifying climax.

Donald Lyons of the New York Post said that Gary Mitchell is “a dramatist to watch.”  He is that, as is this splendid seven-member ensemble, most of whose members are Yanks, yet with amazingly precise Anglo-Irish accents.  Paula Prather is a dialect coach, if not to watch, then certainly to admire.