New Place Players present Shakespeare, dinner at Casa Duse in Park Slope
On the evening of Sept. 11, the New Place Players presented William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” while 22 diners enjoyed a five-course dinner by Chef Max Henson. This event was held at the elegant intimate townhouse of Casa Duse located at 16 Prospect Park West. Casa Duse was named for the great Italian actress Eleanora Duse (1858-1924) and formerly owned by Martin Waldron, who was her godson. This production was made possible by the generous contribution of affable host Robert Krakovski, the Casa Duse Collective and “the spirit of Martin Waldron.”
Casa Duse echoes the immortals that resonate and greet but never haunt this virtual museum of past treasures. Adorning the walls are autographed photos of theatre greats such as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Noel Coward, Eleanora Duse and Charlie Chaplin, as well as opera luminaries, including tenor Enrico Caruso, composer Giuseppe Verdi, conductor Arturo Toscanini, Zinka Milanov, Joan Sutherland (“La Stupenda” to her fans) and her spouse, conductor Richard Bonynge, who were Waldron’s house guests and resided in the Casa Duse for several years.
Luciano Pavarotti, Sheryl Milnes, Leonard Warren, Alfredo Krauss and many other operatic glitterati were frequent guests. It should be noted that Sutherland and Pavarotti, on their way to Casa Duse, got their birthday cakes from Monteleone’s Bakery, which is still on Court and President streets. The great tenor would order cannolis (incognito) and devour them in his stretch limo parked outside. He and Sutherland sent an autographed photo of appreciation to Monteleone’s, which was on exhibit for many years. Monteleone’s is now managed by Antonio and Maria Fiorentino and family.
After “Oberon’s Hors D’Oevres,” which included a roasted cherry tomato and goat cheese tartlet, garlic and smoked salmon, wines and libations, two tables were set up opposite each other across the elegant room with vines decorated with flashing lights like mini stars. The cast performed as we dined. We sat with esteemed playwright Mario Fratti (Nine) Verdi scholar and filmmaker; August Ventura; Anthony Ungaro from New Jersey Opera and his wife Susan, who is President of the James Beard Foundation; and Francesca and Anthony, parents of actor Matthew Cohn with friend Steven.
The members of the New Place Players (named after Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England) were all inspired by this multi-layered romantic comedy presented through the courtesy of Actors Equity. The play, believed to have been written in the 1590s, takes place mostly in the forest, which is controlled by fairies who manipulate six amateur actors.
The action unfolds with the events of the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Dual roles were played by Matthew Cohn, who was outstanding as Theseus, Duke of Athens and also as Oberon King of the Fairies.
Lauren Shannon as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, also sparkled as Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Adam Patterson reveled in the roles of the impish Puck, Philostrate, Master of Revels and Robin Goodfellow. A truly outstanding performance by Emilio Tirado as Nick Bottom, a weaver, and his transformation to a jackass had an unforgettable, poignant panache to it. We enjoyed seeing Craig Bacon as Robin Starveling, a tailor.
The four young mismatched lovers were Aaron McDaniel as Lysander, in love with Hermia; Will Gallacher as Demetrius, in love with Hermia; Heather Boaz as Hermia, in love with Lysander; and Olivia Osol as Helena, in love with Demetrius. Matthew Augenbaugh played Egeus, Hermia’s father, who wants her to marry Demetrius. If she refuses, she must enter a nunnery, as is an ancient Athenian law.
Titania’s fairies and musicians were Niki Pankovits as Peaseblossom, Charlotte Mundy as Cobweb, composer Flavio Gaete as Mustardseed and Snug, a joiner. Morgan Auld was Peter Quince, a carpenter; John Wahl played Francis Flute, a bellows-mender; and Matthew Augenbaugh was Tom Snout, a tinker. The music by Flavio Gaete was haunting, and Felix Mendelssohn’s bridal song, recorded by Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic, added to the felicitous celebrations.
The use of sock and stick puppets (cloth and light) throughout was ingenious. James Ortiz, with Molly Siedel and Mira Veikley, provided wonderful costumes and puppet design. The stunning graphic design was by Yne Leal. Floral and bower design by Jeanne Cameron added to the enchantment. Production and stage managers were Rebecca Pickett and Abigail Strange.
Between the acts, we were served “Hippolyta’s” herb-marinated grilled shrimp with ciabatta and savory sauces with herb butter. The second course was “Titania’s” heirloom tomato gazpacho with avocado and cilantro oil.
The main course was “Bottom’s” chianti braised boneless (tender) beef with a farro risotto, shibumi mushrooms and sautéed broccoli rabe.
A salad followed of “Puck’s” blue moon acres arugula with currants, pine nuts with shaved reggiano parmesan cheese and citrus vinaigrette.
Chef Max Hansen’s final offering was “The Lovers,” individual fruit Napoleons with puff pastry crisps and a brown sugar whipped cream and raspberries, blackberries and blueberries awaiting one’s palate like sacrificial offerings. Fresh brewed coffees and herbal teas aided and abetted this phenomenal food finale. Our wine glasses were refilled frequently!
Great food, great Shakespeare and excellent company offered a remarkable respite from a troubled world. We thank the New Place Players with directors Craig Bacon and James Ortiz and super chef Max Hansen for making the Casa Duse Supper Club a continuing place for such soirees. It was “a moveable feast” of stimulation, illumination and sensation, as we gravitated toward the light only such magical evenings can provide. New Place Players are available for private soirees, business conferences, alternating with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and a gourmet meal. The Casa Duse Supper Club was the perfect venue on both Sept. 10 and 11 with a different chef and meal at each event.
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