‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ opens uptown

Anthony Vaughn Merchant (Bottom), center, is tended to by the fairies Mayaa Boateng (Cobweb), Jaylene Clark (Peaseblossom), Akilah Walker (Mote), Daisy Peele (1st Fairy) and Erica Camarano (Mustardseed). Zainab Jah (Titania) is in the background.
Photo by Lelund Durond Thompson

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare’s popular story of illusive and abiding love, opened Saturday to cheers and a robust crowd at Harlem’s Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park. The show, produced by the Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) (Producing Artistic Director, Ty Jones), is directed by CTH Artistic Associate and Oberlin College Professor of Theater and Africana Studies Justin Emeka and runs Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through July 30. The show is made possible by the Ford Foundation.

Emeka weaves Harlem’s artistic legacy and other traditions of the African Diaspora within Shakespeare’s classic text, infusing it with music, dance, and various traditions from the African Diaspora to present an enchanted concrete jungle inhabited by spirits who revel in the magical nature of summer love. Theseus, the Duke of Harlem, prepares to unite two hemispheres with his marriage to Hippolyta, the African queen. Meanwhile, four Harlem lovers pursue forbidden romance by escaping to the woods, where a group of Harlem’s working class—AKA the “rude mechanicals”—rehearse a “classic” performance to entertain the Duke on his wedding night in hopes of fame and fortune. Colorful West African and Capoeira dance elements are weaved throughout the production, which also boasts a timely same-sex marriage angle; the maiden Hermia loves not the original male character Lysander, but the female Lysandra.

“I wanted to incorporate into the work the issue of marriage equality, one that black and brown people continue to struggle with, and to give the audience another way to come to terms with Hermia’s father demanding her death for not marrying his choice Demetrius,” said Emeka.

The professional theater company—the only year-round theater company in Harlem on an Actor’s Equity Association League of Resident Theaters (LORT) contract—specializes in making the classics accessible to the masses. They hope to make its Shakespeare in the Park a yearly cultural event in Harlem and to entice the regular theater crowd to experience Uptown culture and cuisine.

“The community will be delighted to see itself reflected in the many wonderful characters in this production,” said Jones. “We hope the show will serve as a vehicle to celebrate Harlem and to help build its institutions and establishments.”

Cast members include Michael Early (Theseus/Oberon), Zainab Jah (Hippolyta/Titania), Sheldon Best (Puck), Halle Morse (Hermia), Ito Aghayere (Lysandra), Matthew Harris (Demetrius), Jamie Rezanour (Helena), Anthony Lalor (Egeus/Robin Starveling), Anthony Vaughn Merchant (Bottom), Tim Johnson (Quince), Kambi Gathesha (Snout), Kalon Hayward (Flute), Keith Oliver (Snug), Jaylene Clark (Peaseblossom/Dancer), Mayaa Boateng (Cobweb/Dancer), Akilah Walker (Mote/Dancer), Erica Camarano (Mustardseed/Dancer), Daisy Peele (Fairy/Dancer) and Mark Blanchard (African Boy). Lakai Worell is choreographer, Anka Lupes is set designer, Paul Hudson is lighting designer and Rachel Dozier-Ezell is costume designer. Music is by Michael Wimberly.

The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater is located in Marcus Garvey Park, Fifth Avenue between 122nd Street and 124th Street. The venue opens for seating for the free show at 7:00 p.m. nightly. For more information, call 347-688-6304 or visit www.classicaltheatreofharlem.org.

CTH and this performance are supported by Councilmember Inez E. Dickens, Councilmember Robert Jackson, Doug and Paige Armentrout, Luther and Deborah Ragin, Zead Ramadan, Fund for the City of New York, the Casement Fund, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Columbus Foundation, the Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Family Foundation, West Harlem Local Development Corporation, Time Warner, the Dramatists Guild, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and the L & S Andreas Foundation.

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