Talk about a playhouse!
A local theater troupe is gearing up for a special run of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at a historic Park Slope townhouse that was once a gathering place for stars of the stage. The performances will take place in the parlor, while the audience sits nearby at dinner tables chowing down and drinking up. But one of the play’s directors said the show is not your standard dinner theater.
“With dinner theater, it’s usually dark and you sit back and stuff your face while you’re trying to watch,” said Craig Bacon, artistic director of the New Place Players and co-director of the production, which will run Feb. 25–March 19. “With the lights on, we’re playing, and the audience is playing. You’re definitely not sitting in the back of a theater falling asleep.”
The Prospect Park West residence, known as Casa Duse, is a character in and of itself. The house was once home to Martin Waldron, who was a godson of the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse — described by Bacon as “the Meryl Streep of her day.”
Waldron was a huge fan of theater and opera, frequently entertaining visiting stars. The house, which was built in 1899, is covered with signed photographs from the likes of Laurence Olivier, Luciano Pavarotti, and Joan Sutherland. The wallpaper, furnishings, and light fixtures all seem to be from an era long ago.
During the performance of the Bard’s lively comedy, the actors will move around the tables, leave the room to go “off-stage,” and occasionally interact with the audience. But, mercifully, the play is not audience interactive, Bacon said.
“Bottom will occasionally play with the audience,” he said. “He’ll steal a sip of wine once in a while. There’s no fourth wall, but we don’t abuse that fact.”
Actors will also make use of puppets and elaborate costumes studded with lights. And music will be provided by the fairies, who will sing with an accompanying guitar and recorded electronic music. The songs are based on the famous Felix Mendelssohn compositions for the play, but with a modern twist, the show’s musical director said.
“A lot of the music is Mendelssohn’s orignial, but all re-arranged,” said Flavio Gaete. “It’s a wilder electronic version.”
The dinner served to the audience depends on the day — half the shows will feature a five-course meal with Shakespearean undertones prepared by chef Zachary O’Neil. The other shows, which cost less, will have a pasta dinner with beer and wine.
Bacon said the cosy setup, which only seats 22 guests, is reminiscent of Shakespeare performing at the Inns of Court, or at the home of a noble.
“We’re creating a contemporary Elizabethan feast in a way, but on a smaller scale,” he said. “For both the actors and the audience, there’s a real intimacy.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Casa Duse [16 Prospect Park West between Carroll and President streets in Park Slope, (646) 266–2762, www.newplaceplayersnyc.com]. Feb. 25, March 4, March 11, and March 18 at 6:30 pm. $75. Feb. 26, March 5, March 12, and March 19 at 6:30 pm. $125.