Stuy Town resident making Shakespeare easy

(From left to right) Actors Tommy Walters, Benny Salerno and Ethan Fox with director Catherine Lamm (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Longtime Stuy Town resident and theater director Catherine Lamm wants to make the Bard accessible for even the most Shakespeare-averse, with a new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Players Theatre debuting on March 12.

Lamm said that this is the first Shakespeare play she’s done that’s so playful and “loose” and she’d like to direct others to be as accessible to theater-goers who might be Shakespeare-phobic, although she said the format likely wouldn’t work as well with some of the more serious plays.

“This is very playful and very interactive and I don’t think it would work for Julius Caesar, but it would work for the comedies,” she said.

Lamm said that she’s seen probably over 100 productions of the play, including a hip-hop production at Edinburgh’s theater festival that used only a small amount of the original text and a lot of their own interpretation.

“I think you come to it with a concept, and what I wanted was a very user-friendly interactive production, so that the Shakespeare-phobic feel comfortable with it,” she said, noting that it is not uncommon for theater-goers to be intimidated by the playwright’s work. “I think it’s been taught by the English department and it should really only be handled by the drama department.”

The play is being performed at the Player’s Theatre in the West Village in a small black box space that Lamm has used in previous productions, including The Glass Menagerie.

“This space is really conducive to the kind of production that we’re doing here,” Lamm said. “We sort of break the fourth wall a lot and the actors have enormous fun. And I think that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed about the productions that I’ve done in the past, that I’m able to find comfort in the space.”

The classic play was actually one of the first productions that Lamm did when she started directing but it’s a play that she’s been wanting to revisit. She trained as an actor in London in the late 1970s and early 1980s and started directing soon after she returned to New York, working on the play soon after she came back to the city.

She said that one of the biggest differences is the learning process she’s been through since she first directed it and learning how to cast for specific parts.

“You get some time away from it and you start to think about what you could do differently, what you learn from the process,” she said. “One of the most fun things about the whole process is casting. I’ve got a great cast. It’s very collaborative.”

Part of the casting process for this production, she said, was finding the right actor for Nick Bottom, a character in the play that provides comic relief.

“I looked for an actor that had Bottom in their soul already so that I didn’t feel like I’d have to do so much,” she said. “I didn’t know as much about casting [in the previous production], and I didn’t know as much about Shakespeare, so I’ve learned a lot over the years. I wanted to cast an actor who can find the most.”

Lamm said that there is special discount code for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents who want to see the play, and those looking to attend can enter “donkey” when buying tickets through the theater’s website at theplayerstheatre.com. Regular tickets are $52 and discounted tickets are $32. The theater is located at 115 MacDougal Street. The play will run through March 29.

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