This year’s fall production of “Midsummer Jersey,” directed by Tyler Baas and Laura Huff, is a hilarious retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play takes the story to modern-day New Jersey, giving us a new perspective on this classic tale.
The play opens with audience interaction; several characters come up and down the aisles or sit in the seats with the audience. Though some might find this strange, I found that it piqued my interest and brought me into the story. Also, you can’t have a play set in New Jersey without Jersey accents, and “Midsummer Jersey” is filled to the brim with them. Nevertheless, the accents don’t feel overbearing or awkward, and they don’t distract from the story.
Much of what makes this production so hilariously ridiculous is the physical comedy. The characters climb all over the stage, jump on top of each other, and drag each other across the floor, making for some hilarious interactions. I was especially entertained by Nicky Bottom’s (John Hart) eccentric but hilarious actions, as well as the major fight between the four lovers (Kryzia Salinas, Austin Wills, Maria Hart and Tim Walsh). At other times, the humor came from the subtlest of facial expressions or line delivery. Patty Quince (Sydney Gonser) is hilarious in both of these aspects, as is Roberta Sudds (Annie Drews).
As “Midsummer Jersey” is taken from Shakespeare’s original play, there are countless references to Shakespeare’s poetry. Several characters recite monologues directly taken from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Playwright Ken Ludwig integrates modern references into these monologues, but it felt odd to hear references to Taylor Swift and Dairy Queen in rhyming iambic pentameter. This sometimes made the play’s efforts to modernize the story awkward and forced.
Ultimately, though, the play succeeds in its attempts to deepen our understanding of Shakespeare. “Midsummer Jersey” allows us to see that Shakespeare’s characters aren’t abstract or hard to connect with; rather, they’re exactly like modern teenagers in love. They are impulsive, irrational and moody, and the actors in this production do an excellent job of bringing this out in their performance.
Despite being a bit tacky at times, “Midsummer Jersey” is a hysterical, yet thought-provoking production that can’t be missed.
The production ends this weekend, with shows Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or through the online box office.