THE BASICS: A MIDSUMMER DYKE’S DREAM, a comedy by Shawn P. Northrip presented by Buffalo United Artists and Brazen-Faced Varlets, directed by Lara D. Haberberger stars Heather Fangsrud, Jennifer Gembka, Stefanie Warnick, and Lara D. Haberberger. It ran through December 10th, Fridays and Saturdays 8 at the Alleyway Theatre’s Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main Street (886-9239). Run-time was 80 minutes without intermission. www.buffalobua.org/www.varlets.org
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: With tongues firmly in cheeks (and suggestions where else tongues may be employed) (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) four women actors took on 16 roles for a streamlined, very irreverent, bawdy (the bard would have been proud) and very funny take on the Shakespeare classic tale of lovers, fairies, and a donkey. Part of the 400th anniversary observances of Shakespeare’s death it’s also the tenth anniversary of the all-female Brazen-Faced Varlets. The set up: On the eve of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens (Lara D. Haberberger), a pair of lesbian lovers, Hermia (Jennifer Gembka) and Lysandra (Stefanie Warnick) (Lysander in the original), escape to the forest to be together, where the best laid (or is it layed?) plans come undone, often at the hands of the mischievous Puck (Heather Fangsrud). The promotional tagline was “It’s the forest, baby. Everything goes.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Leaving the theater I was so sorry that I didn’t make it earlier in the run so that I could have told everyone about what a laugh-out-loud evening this was. I’m writing this review now to remind some or let others know for the first time that the Brazen Faced Varlets are not to be missed (as I almost did for this production).
The gender bending in this play is no more confusing than the original Shakespeare (in one scene Duke Theseus sneaks off complaining that he can’t stand all these plays with “thees and thous”) and it opened up fresh ground for more bawdy humor. Shakespeare’s plays are pretty raunchy (if they weren’t would we have ever read them in high school?) and this adaptation is true to the tradition. Shakespeare is also chock full of sophomoric humor (“juvenile, puerile, and base comedy that would normally be expected from an adolescent” is one definition) because he knew his audience. They loved this stuff over 400 years ago and we loved in 2016.
This play, A MIDSUMMER DYKE’S DREAM was, however, written by a man, Shawn P. Northrip, a high school English teacher with an impressive resume, and I wondered if the jokes would have been different if written by a woman. But, whoever wrote them, they were acted and spoken by women, which gave us permission to laugh. What do I mean by permission?
It was a great show, but if say, a troupe of college fraternity boys decided to put on this very show, I think they’d be in the dean’s office the next morning. Humor is a delicate thing. But when the lines, the actors, and the audience are simpatico, it is good for the heart and soul to laugh out-loud. What do I mean by simpatico?
I believe that British philosopher Stephen Toulmin explains this in his concept of the “warrant” which is an assumption on the part of the audience which holds the argument together. In this case, the locker room humor is being presented by four women who belong to a feminist theater group with an impressive 10-year history. Our assumption is, the warrant is, that whatever they say or do onstage cannot be deemed offensive. So let ‘er rip! It’s okay to laugh. And laugh we did, in no small measure due to the acting chops of this troupe.
The stated goals of the Varlets include: providing women with compelling roles, re-imaging the theatrical canon in order to allow women to portray iconic roles, allowing artists to grow and develop their theatrical talents, and producing work that focuses on political and social issues that affect women. Certainly some of that was going on, but it was also a chance to see the lighter side of the LGBTQ community and just have some yucks after a very stressful political year heading into the holidays. So, thank you Varlets, for that.
RANDOM NOTES: It’s appropriate that the Varlets opened their season with Northrip’s RAMONA AND JULIET, and now have put on A MIDSUMMER DYKE’S DREAM, because the name of the feminist theater troupe is appropriated from Shakespeare. To be exact, in KING LEAR, Act II, Scene II KENT: What a brazen-faced varlet art thou to deny thou knowest me!
When the Varlets heard about how Buffalo has a vibrant LGTBQ community and supports a gay theater, they felt that it would welcome a lesbian troupe.
And the story of how the Brazen Faced Varlets came to be in Buffalo is a real “Chamber of Commerce” success story. I can’t remember the exact details, but, as I heard it, the Buffalo United Artists were at an out of town convention for LGTBQ theater people. When the Varlets heard about how Buffalo has a vibrant LGTBQ community and supports a gay theater, they felt that it would welcome a lesbian troupe. And that has proven to be the case. One moral to the story: When you are out of town, Be a Buffalo Booster!
Announced from the stage and in the program, BUA’s 25th Anniversary Party will be in the Alleyway lobby on Sunday, January 29th, 2017.
Also announced from the stage, the next Brazen Faced Varlets production, in February, 2017 (around Lincoln’s birthday) will be much closer to the Varlet’s theatrical mission which includes producing plays written by women. MARY AND MYRA by Catherine Filloux is described in playscripts.com as follows: “In the summer of 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln (the President’s widow) resides in an insane asylum, sent there by her only living son. Her progressive friend Myra Bradwell (America’s first woman lawyer) arrives to help Mary gain her release by exposing the injustices of her trial. But Myra’s motives and Mary’s sanity are both up for debate….”
The Brazen Faced Varlets’ home stage is at Rustbelt Books, 415 Grant Street, Buffalo, NY 14213 for future reference.
Photos: Brazen-Faced Varlets
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!