Theater review by Naveen Kumar
Dinner theater is underrated. Midsummer: A Banquet, produced by Food of Love Productions and Third Rail Projects, transforms a storefront in the landmarked former residence of Willem de Kooning into Café Fae, a patinated Art Nouveau hideaway of reveries both fanciful and savory. In a triumph of versatility, the eight performers in this inventive and delightfully madcap adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream not only play its royals, lovers, faeries and rude mechanicals, but also serve a light and delicious five-course tasting menu throughout.
Crudités, charcuterie and a delectable array of breads and spreads await patrons at low café tables, tended to by solicitous servers in knee-high leather boots—not yet in character, but already in the act. Director Zach Morris and co-adapter Victoria Rae Sook whittle the Bard’s sylvan caper down to the essentials: misplaced affections among four mortals, an imperious faerie queen and a conceited ass, with a woefully silly tragedy to cap the comedy. Women reign over this Grecian realm, self-possessed in the face of men’s witless whims and deceptions. (Few would call standout Adrienne Paquin “poor Helena” this time around.)
As he proved in Then She Fell, Third Rail’s long-running immersive take on Alice in Wonderland, Morris’s can make scrappy wonders with precious little. The set comprises a slender aisle, a tree stump, and a few tables and chairs; simple changes in dress—workman smocks for the amateur players, floral garlands for the supernaturals—help transform the intrepid company into a larger cast of characters. (The faeries come in candlelit mason jars.) The effect is captivating in the way of children's stories before CGI: Playfulness and imagination are required. By dessert, the evening may seem like a dream from which you’d rather not wake.
Café Fae (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Adapted by Zach Morris and Victoria Rae Sook. Directed by Morris. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hr 30mins. One intermission.