If we shadows have offended Think but this, and all is mended; That you have but slumber’d here, While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream.
— Puck’s epilogue, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What begins as an enchanting, queerish postmodern approach to Puck’s fairy presence in A Midsummer Night’s Dream ends with bickering, disenchanted, straight couples storming across the stage in a flurry of misspent passion and misplaced desire.
In the tradition of Edward Albee’s take on Shakespeare’s classic tale of love gone wrong during a drunken all-night bitchfest, Offensive Shadows, currently running at Tarragon’s Extra Space, is a thirty-something seriocomic spin on the same kind of disillusioned middle-class state in which George, Martha, Nick and Honey find themselves bogged down by in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Paul Dunn’s bleak, wildly funny little comedy sports an articulate understanding of the original Shakespearean characters as he transplants them into a contemporary milieu ripe with camping gear, bonfires and bikinis. Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander are beautifully played with comic finesse and great physical agility by Jessica Greenberg, Kimwun Perehinec, Jason Mitchell and Mark McGrinder, while Puck’s opening speech is a gem performed to perfection by Andrew Kushnir.
For all of the cock- and clit-teasing shenanigans that appear throughout this 90-minute high-energy comedy, lacking is a satisfying queer ending. The two male leads are a delight onstage as they wrestle and stammer through lines crafted to tease the homosocial narrative into hot stage action. But, alas, although a kiss is just a kiss the only lip-locking sexuality that appears is designed to reflect straight spectators. The women simply lament bitterly their respective positions as apexes for the male-dominated triangles they have been lured into, rather than reflecting their respective hubby’s innuendo-laden dialogue with their own lesbo-erotic quips.
Michael Shamata’s direction is fast-paced and physically thrilling, finding impressive vocal pacing and fresh, ingenuous delivery in the opening monologue and throughout. But in the final analysis the structural brilliance of the bard’s original — with Puck delivering an apologetically joyful epilogue — is discarded for an abrupt and gloomy ending. Offensive Shadows teases wildly, providing great comic entertainment for about 80 minutes, but the final five are sorely lacking. What this midsummer night’s dreamscape needed was a summarizing and provocative expression of Puckish fairy wordplay, providing spectators with an inclusive queer finale that could have brought cupid’s arrow into a much broader, less banal, arena of sexual thought and play.