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Producing the long-running off-Broadway hit The Donkey Show, Randy Weiner’s wickedly funny disco extravaganza very loosely based on William Shakespeare’s classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a great way for Qat Productions to make a big splash in the already crowded Triangle theater pond. The Donkey Show, which director David Klionsky has staged in various locations on the first two floors of Ringside bar and nightclub in Durham, NC, would have a much bigger kick if it were staged in a more congenial venue.
True, staging the show on the Ringside dance floor, and in and around the nightspot’s bars and second-floor balcony, is a inspired way to recapture the divinely decadent atmosphere of the Disco Era. The problem is, this multilevel staging succeeds only too well in recreating the throbbing soundtrack and shouted (and partially unintelligible) conversations that characterize a popular late-night club, circa 1979, at full roar. Much of the audience, which has to crane necks and strain ears to see and hear, cannot follow some of the plot developments, let alone hear the dialogue.
With scenes staged all over two floors, and dialogue frequently partially or entirely drowned out by Solid Gold Hits of the Disco Era, Klionsky — who doubles as Disco Dave the DJ — cannot sustain the show’s comic focus. Consequently, some characters are ciphers and others do wild and crazy things for reasons that are difficult to fathom.
Suffice it to say, that The Donkey Show substitutes drug-addled denizens of Club 54, etc., for the moonstruck couples frolicking in the enchanted forest surrounding the ancient Athens of the legendary Greek king Theseus and his Amazon queen Hippolyta, who make no appearance in The Donkey Show. Instead of the king and queen of the fairies, The Donkey Show gives us the rightfully jealous cigar-chomping dance-club owner Oberon (Noelle Barnard) and his drug-sniffing, disco-diva girlfriend Tytania (Hope Hynes), a wild child who staggers through a series of misadventures wearing butterfly pasties and hotpants and with no discernable inhibitions.
Instead of Puck, who at Oberon’s behest sprinkles pixie dust to enchant the fairy queen and bewitch the young lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Donkey Show has Dr. Wheelgood (Adam Sampieri), a drug-dealing Mercury on roller blades who hustles in and out of the action. The two young couples, circa 1979, are handsome Sander (Hope Hynes) and lovely Mia (Noelle Bernard), who are smitten with each other, and the disdainful Dmitri (Maggie Cochran), who is definitely not smitten with poor needy Helen (Anoushka Brod).
The two Vinnys (Maggie Cochran and Anoushka Brod) — loathsome, crassly coifed and mustachioed John Travolta wannabes — provide comic relief as they crudely hit on every female in sight. Stardust (Thaddeus Edwards) and Moonbeam (Elijah Vick) prove to be a couple of solid-gold dancers; and Jane Allen Wilson plays Tytania’s protégée June Bug — a role whose meaning is completely lost to me.
Among this highly talented cross-dressing cast, Hope Hynes as Tytania, Adam Sampieri as Dr. Wheelgood, Anoushka Brod as Helen, and Brod and Maggie Cochran as the two Vinnys give outstanding performances. The rest suffer from the diffused dramatic focus and/or their inability to be heard in the din of disco music or seen in the obscure locations where some of the vignettes are staged.
Credit choreographer Virginia Queen for some slick moves and Michael Pryal for the pervasive mirrored ball effect and keeping the spotlight on the action. But the real heroes of this production are costumer Thomas Mauney, who outfitted the cast in some truly outrageous period glad rags, and dressers Michelle Lantieri, Miss Dapper, and Christina Moore, who are the show’s unsung heroes as they pop the performers in and out of the dozens of costumes required to make them convincing in each of their multiple roles.
Qat Productions presents The Donkey Show Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 8-10 and 15-17, at 9 p.m. at Ringside, 308 W. Main Street, Durham, North Carolina. $10 (age 18 & over only). 919/699-9831. The Donkey Show: http://www.thedonkeyshow.com/ [inactive 10/06].
For its inaugural presentation, Qat Productions will present the North Carolina premiere of The Donkey Show, the long-running Off-Broadway hit created by Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner, Sept. 1-17 at Ringside in Durham, NC.
“The Donkey Show is a disco-era extravaganza is loosely inspired by [16th and 17th century English playwright William] Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream [1595-96],” says director David Klionsky. “I first saw it on a 2002 visit to New York City, and saw it again this year. The Donkey Show has been playing Off Broadway since 1999, and has been produced in Barcelona, London, and at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. This production is the first time The Donkey Show has been uh, ‘mounted’ in North Carolina.”
The veteran Triangle actor and director admits, “When I first saw this show, I was skeptical at first at the premise. We have all seen ungainly transpositions of Shakespeare plays to different eras and milieu. After 10 minutes, however, I became completely swept up in the production. I simply had a great time! I want Triangle audiences to share my enthusiasm for this irreverent take on the Bard’s Midsummer.
“Leave your Riverside Shakespeare (or your Cliff Notes) at home this time,” commands Klionsky. “All you need to bring to this show is a sense of humor and a pulse!”
Klionsky says, “The Donkey Show tells the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream through the lyrics of disco hits from the 1970s. As our story begins, two sets of lovers run away to Club Oberon, a big-city disco. Mia debates whether to ‘go all the way’ with her dream date, smooth surfer Sander. Dmitri, a Travolta-wannabe with his own sights set on Mia, is spurning the advances of his old flame, the lovesick Helen.
“While the lovers try and enjoy themselves on the dance floor,” Klionsky says, “they are harassed by two obnoxious guys named Vinnie. Meanwhile, Mr. Oberon, the wealthy impresario who owns the club, is having his own romantic problems with his paramour Tytania, a world-famous disco diva who never goes anywhere without her entourage of muscled young go-go boys.”
Klionsky says, “Into this heady mix enters Oberon’s sidekick Dr. Wheelgood, a shady purveyor of illicit substances. What follows is a magical mix of music, dance, and passion gone awry!”
Director David Klionsky is cagey about naming cast members and the roles that they will play. “We have made some unusual casting choices that I prefer to keep a secret,” he says, “for reasons that will become obvious once you see the show.”
In addition to director David Klionsky, the show’s creative team includes choreographer Virginia Queen, lighting designer Michael Pryal, costume designer Thomas Mauney, sound designer Joe Keilholz.
“The script for the show is rather slim ... during rehearsals,” claims Klionsky. “I encouraged the cast to dig into Shakespeare’s original text, their own life experience, and improv exercises to fill out the play’s scenario. While the characters and situations are sometimes bigger than life, the cast worked hard to ground each character with an authentic emotional life.”
In describing the show’s set, Klionsky says, “Other than a few added set-pieces, we are using the existing decor of Ringside, which already has a timeless, decadent look to it.”
Klionsky says, “This is a play that invites and rewards audience participation. Actually, it is as much a party as a play. You will maximize your enjoyment of The Donkey Show if you leave your inhibitions at the door, and shake your booty along with the performers. The show runs just over an hour, but we invite the audience to stay after the show and dance along with our fabulous cast.
“We also encourage the audience to arrive early,” Klionsky emphasizes. “They might see some interesting events transpire before the show ‘officially’ begins at 9 p.m.”
Qat Productions presents The Donkey Show Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 1-3, 8-10, and 15-17, at 9 p.m. at Ringside, 308 W. Main Street, Durham, North Carolina. $10 (age 18 & over only). 919/699-9831. The Donkey Show: http://www.thedonkeyshow.com/ [inactive 10/06].