A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare & Company

Tina Packer Playhouse
70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.
June 21 – August 30, 2014

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tony Simotes
Role: Nick Bottom

Assuring Peter Quince (Jonathan Epstein) that he can play any role in their play for King Theseus' wedding day.

Assuring Peter Quince (Jonathan Epstein) that he can play any role in the play for King Theseus’ wedding day (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague)

Translated into an ass, Bottom dances for Titania (Merritt Janson), Queen of the Fairies, as she plays "Goin' Fishin'" and the faeries (Briana Maia and Atalanta Siegel) sing along (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague)

Translated into an ass, Bottom dances for Titania (Merritt Janson), Queen of the Fairies, as she plays “Goin’ Fishin’” and the faeries (Briana Maia and Atalanta Siegel) sing along (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague)

Trying to remember the love and magic he thought he once had in Bottom's dream. (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague).

Trying to remember the love and magic he thought he once had in Bottom’s dream. (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague).

Nick Bottom as Pyramis kisses his Thisbe (Alex Sovronsky as Francis Flute) through a chink in the wall (Bob Lobauher as Tom Snout) in "The Lamentable Comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe" (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague)

Playing Pyramis, Nick Bottom kisses his Thisbe (Alexander Sovronsky as Francis Flute) through a chink in the wall (Robert Lobauher as Tom Snout) in “The Lamentable Comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe” as Moonshine (Malcolm Ingram as Robin Starveling) and the Lion (Annette Miller as Snug) look on (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague)

The mechanicals (Malcolm Ingram as Robin Starveling, Jonathan Epstein as Peter Quince, Alexander Sovronsky as Francis Flute, Annette Miller as Snug, Johnny Lee Davenport as Nick Bottom, and Robert Lohbauer as Tom Snout) celebrate, having pleased the king (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague).

The mechanicals (Malcolm Ingram as Robin Starveling, Jonathan Epstein as Peter Quince, Alexander Sovronsky as Francis Flute, Annette Miller as Snug, Johnny Lee Davenport as Nick Bottom, and Robert Lohbauer as Tom Snout) celebrate, having pleased the king (PHOTO: Kevin Sprague).

Critical Response

“The band of actors . . . are so good, particularly the Rude Mechanicals and their loose gas­baggery, and the epic, second­half romp involving the lovers, that I suspect those scenes will become burnished by memory into the lasting impression of this ‘Midsummer,’ the company’s eighth since it opened with the play in 1978.”
—Steve Barnes, The Albany Times Union (June 29, 2014)

“The six mechanicals (as they are called) who perform the famous Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play were all consummate clowns.”
Larry Murray, Berkshire on Stage and Screen (June 30, 2014)

“The role of Bottom is given an endearing sense of dignity by Johnny Lee Davenport without costing any humor within the character.”
—Bob Goepfert, The Troy Record (July 1. 2014)

“The rude mechanicals—the local tradesmen working on a play of their own—are always a delight; it won’t surprise you that they were here, as well. Having the mechanicals sing and play instruments on stage was inspired. Johnny Lee Davenport’s Bottom was the blowhard we all know and love, in all of his iterations: as Bottom, as Pyramus, and as Bottom-­turned-­ass by the machinations of Puck.

The mechanicals seemed to have such joy working together that you utterly could not help but feel that joy when watching their scenes. This is the sign of great theater.”
—Amy Durant, The Schenectady Daily Gazette, July 1, 2014

“Recognizable actor Johnny Lee Davenport (Bottom and Pyramus) and longtime Berkshire performing ace Jonathan Epstein (Quince) take to the stage and bring, at the very outset, the blues with them.”
—Fred Sokol, Talkin’ Broadway Regional Reviews (July 2, 2014)

“We have been going to so many Shakespeare productions here and in Boston that we recognize a lot of the performers. Johnny Lee Davenport played Bottom, and it was nice to see him in a comedic role vs. the serious roles we’ve seen.”
Christy Gunnels, There and Back Again: The Travels and Adventures of an American Couple (July 6, 2014“[G]umbo‐flavored characterizations [come from] Jonathan Epstein, whose Peter Quince, leader of the hapless theatricals, has a delicious Cajun drawl and a Dr. John swagger, and Johnny Lee Davenport as a strutting black Bottom.
—Chris Rohmann, Valley Advocate ‘Stage Struck’ (July 9, 2014)

“It’s party time in New Orleans–but wasn’t it always during that city’s fabled era as the wellspring of jazz? As a motley set of white-clad instrumentalists strikes up a rousing ‘Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me’ on banjoleles and washboard, Johnny Lee Davenport and Jonathan Epstein trade off verses, soon engaging the entire onstage cast. . . . Merritt Jansen as Hippolyta and Titania. . . . [was] energetic and believable—especially when Jansen got to play out her sudden infatuation with ass-eared Bottom.z
sssssAs played by Davenport, he was a study in unselfconscious swagger. This is an actor whose previous Dream appearances were as Oberon, so it must have been a joy to forego the crown and don the ears. He brings a commanding voice to the role, modulated to suit the character, but the added physicality was the best part. Bottom can’t seem to stop himself from taking over any situation, and in his transformed guise he was even funnier in his impulses.
sssssAnd then there’s the matter of Pyramus, the doomed lover he plays. He’s up against the get-me-outta-here bashfulness of Flute the bellows-mender, who, as played by Alex Sovronsky, looks like Harold Lloyd even while wearing the blonde wig to play Pyramus’ beloved Thisbe.
sssssAnd then there’s that play at the end. Its success can be judged by the astonished reaction of the talkative trio of oldsters behind me. After a sufficiency of “What’d he say?” and “Why’s she doing that?” they were momentarily nonplussed by the excellent awfulness of the Pyramus-Thisbe sketch. And then: ‘Why, that’s terrible!’
sssssIt was wonderful.”
—B.A. Nilsson, Metroland (July 10, 2014)

“The world­weary countenance and achy­bone movements Johnny Lee Davenport gives to Bottom lend an air of pathos, and most of his cohorts among the Rude Mechanicals are also of a certain age. Their subplot feels uncharacteristically played­down here, especially the climactic play­within­a­play, which can otherwise pull a production off course by way of prolonged chaos. You kind of want your money’s worth when it comes to the onstage death of Bottom­as­Pyramus, but Davenport doesn’t milk it. Instead, the enduring image from his performance is the beautiful moment when a leftover token from Titania reminds Bottom of the supposed “dream” in which he won her affections.”
—Jeremy D. Goodwin, Rural Intelligence (July 11, 2014)

“Perhaps the most wonderful casting coup pulled off by the director is the casting of The Mechanicals. Stalwarts of Shakespeare and Company, actors who, collectively, have played the leading roles in everything from Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus to Golda Meir and Maria Callas, play the goofiest set of characters in any of Shakespeare’s plays. This group performs, ultimately, a classic Greek tragedy, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe,’ in celebration of the weddings of their superiors. They are Robert Lohbauer as Snout who portrays the wall and its chink; Malcolm Ingram whose Starveling plays the role of Moonshine, a character whose few lines are constantly trampled by the indignant on-stage audience; Jonathan Epstein as Quince, the director, whose New Orleans accent is comic perfection and who wears a wig you won’t want to miss; Alexander Sovronsky as Flute whose awkward femininity makes him a winsome and winning Thisbe; Johnny Lee Davenport as Bottom who not only gets to strut his egoistic stuff as Pyramus, but who is also transformed by Puck into a perfect ass of a man, a man in donkey head, hooves and tail; Annette Miller as a cigar-smoking Snug, hips covered in a piano shawl, who takes on the central role of Lion. You don’t want to miss this gang as they rape two classics in a single evening and have a ball doing it and provide the audience with more moments of rare Shakespearian fun. If Simotes had produced and directed only their scenes, it would have been a triumph for the director. However, as things stand he has made the most of a very excellent ensemble.”
—J. Peter Bergman, The Berkshire Edge (July 12, 2014)

“But the play jolts into life when the scene moves to the woods for the rehearsals of the amateur actors and when the lovers, with their vacillating affections, spring into action. The sextet of clowns is led by a loosey­goosey Johnny Lee Davenport in a most endearing portrayal of Bottom, singing and jiving his way through the role.”
Iris Fanger, Theatermania (July 16, 2014)

Johnny Lee Davenport was a real, believable Bottom. He had a natural enthusiasm, not a ranting kind. Mr. Davenport took himself seriously as an actor and did not condescend to the role, as many actors do. Bottom’s dream was a slow­spoken, lyrical, musical event in his performance. It was the thing in the production which brought us close to the mysteries.”
Keith Kibler, The Berkshire Review for the Arts (July 17, 2014)

“Led by Bottom (Johnny Lee Davenport) an unabashed egotist, these tradesmen go into the forest (bayou?) to secretly rehearse. It’s the same sanctuary that welcomes the four young lovers and it is there with the help of magic that all is resolved.
sssssThe sequence where Bottom is transformed into an ass and becomes romantically entwined with an equally drugged Titania; and the hapless performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ remain two of Shakespeare’s sublime comic moments and the actors here plunge in with relish. Davenport is a roaringly funny, attention-seeking Bottom and the young actors are most adept at convincing us of their passions as allowed and unrequited. Coteal Horne is Helena and she reminded me of a young Lena Horne (same last name too!)
—Chesley Plemmons, Curtain Up (July 18, 2014)

“As that ass, Nick Bottom, Johnny Lee Davenport absolutely delights with his take on the town’s weaver, who is not quite dumb or as full of himself as audiences may find in other productions. His Bottom is an endearing character, whose desire to play all the parts in the workers’ “play within the play” is motivated more out of wanting to provide an better final product than outshine his fellow players. Davenport plays Bottom as a man whose malapropisms are understood by his colleagues and not seen as any game of superiority, but who nonetheless is regarded as a leader by them. His transformation is handled briefly offstage, but Davenport assures that all the necessary honks, hee-haws and snorts are readily provided. His glee in being matched with Titania is sweet to see, as is his delight in being massaged and cared for by a phlanyx of fairies.”
Andrew Beck, Springfield Art Examiner (July 20, 2014)

“Jonathan Epstein’s Nawlins drawl is a hoot—as are all the Rude Mechanicals—and it’s a delight to see local favorite Johnny Lee Davenport as Bottom.”
—Ed Siegel, WBUR’s THEARTERY (July 23, 2014)

Johnny Lee Davenport made the strongest impression as Bottom, bringing folksy charm and goofy charisma to the role. His philosophizing upon waking up after his transformation was stunning. As he came to the line “past the wit of man to say what dream it was” he was for a moment overcome with emotion, so carried away by the joy and awe of his experience that we could forgive his string of malaprops (“The eye of man hath not heard,” etc.). It was an unusual and deeply personal interpretation of one of the most celebrated speeches in the canon.
—Eric C. Simpson, Arma Virumque, the Weblog for The New Criterion (July 28, 2014)

Davenport is very funny, especially when Bottom tries to lay claim to every role in the play.”
— Don Aucoin, Boston Globe (July 31, 2014)

“With a large cast of S&Co. vets, Johnny Lee Davenport shines as the common man turned mule.”
Shera Cohen, In the Spotlight (August 4, 2014)

“Also engaging and stealing the show was Johnny Lee Davenport as Bottom/Pyramus. He was superb in the mechanicals, making the best suggestions, and as transformed into an ass, provided great laughs.”
—Maria Reveley, Berkshire Fine Arts (August 11, 2014) 

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