Exactly 10 years ago, the Brazen-Faced Varlets made their Buffalo debut in the Main Street Cabaret with a production of Shawn Northrip's "Ramona and Juliet."
They're back in the same space with Northrip's plodding one-act "A Midsummer Dyke's Dream," which features four female actors playing 16 characters from the Bard's most charming play. The Varlets' co-production of the show with Buffalo United Artists opened Nov. 18 and runs through Dec. 10.
Since mounting Northrop's queer take on Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers in 2006, the troupe has performed dozens of pieces tinged with queer and feminist politics. Despite the frequent troubles with execution that stifle many amateur theater companies, much of that material has been inspired. What's more, it has often fostered a wider understanding and appreciation of the challenges and hard-won victories of the feminist struggle.
Its latest offering, however, is neither inspired nor particularly illuminating. And its often labored and uneven acting, under Lara D. Haberberger's direction, dims its prospects even further.
In its rickety way, Northrip's twisted version of this oft-performed tale about fairies, love potions and amateur actors flips our expectations about gender on their heads.
Lysander becomes Lysandra (Stefanie Warnick) and her relationship with Hermia (Jennifer Gembka) becomes a modernized battle of wills between two lesbian stereotypes. Puck (Heather Fangsrud), strains to frame the whole affair as a kind of lesbian soap opera, but the intended effect is unclear.
Characters wear rainbow sashes and other accouterments to accentuate their queerness, injecting strained asides about marriage equality and queer politics into an abridged selection of Shakespeare's original. The intent may be camp, but the camp rarely lands.
"Through the forest have I gone, but lesbians found I none," Fangsrud's Puck says, eliciting polite laughter from the audience.
Performances from the gifted Fangsrud as Puck and others and Warnick as a variety of characters including the fairy king Oberon and bumbling Nick Bottom are nuanced and often comically adept. But Haberberger and Gembka struggle to sustain a base level of credibility that might have elevated the haphazard script into something memorable.
As it stands, "A Midsummer Dyke's Dream" is an intermittently clever attempt to filter Shakespeare's scintillating take on young love through the lesbian experience. What comes out on the other side is a confused and overwrought narrative that tries too hard for laughs and misses the air of mystery and magic that made the original so appealing.
1 1/2 stars (out of four)
"A Midsummer Dyke's Dream," a comedy, runs through Dec. 10 in the Main Street Cabaret (1 Curtain Up Alley) in a co-production of Buffalo United Artists and the Brazen-Faced Varlets. Tickets are $15 to $25, with more information at 886-9239 or buffalobua.org.