Cameron Connors speaks with unearned authority in his review, doing a great disservice to Strollers Theatre's production and the theatre-going community at large. His prejudices and galling ignorance should have prevented the review from ever being published in its current form.
For example, I would love to add Kabuki puppetry to my resume, but no such thing exists. Perhaps Mr Connors could be forgiven for confusing Kabuki with bunraku -- for indeed there is cross-pollination between them -- but doing so would require us to believe that Mr Connors knows what bunraku puppetry is. He clearly does not, for if he did, no such comparison would have been made. Shockingly, he uses his ignorance to bolster his weak thesis that the production has a strong East Asian aesthetic.
This thesis has almost no basis in reality. The musicians may use some instruments not native to Western culture, but that does not automatically make the music itself "East Asian". (I'd like to ask Mr Connors if he thinks that "Norwegian Wood" is Indian because it includes a sitar.)
I would also suggest that Mr Connors take a closer look at actual Japanese prints of cherry blossoms before equating the suggestively rendered trees on parts of the set with them. (Full disclosure: they were modeled on actual trees -- none of them cherry trees -- in an actual Madison location.)
Mr Connors' continued focus on the supposed "East Asian aesthetic" is aggravating because he uses it to complain that the obviously non-Asian costuming for the show is "confusing" by comparison. It is only confusing to Mr Connors because he is too tunnel-visioned to appreciate that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in his quaintly limited and highly prejudiced philosophy.
His prejudices are on full display when he announces that it is also "confusing" that the part of Oberon is played by a woman. Firstly, Strollers' production is far from the first one to have a woman play the part. In drag. Secondly, Mr Connors makes it clear that he finds it "confusing" because he entered the theatre expecting the common double-casting of Theseus and Oberon. Mr Connors would have us feel disappointment and confusion whenever our preconceived notions are challenged. However, it would have made more sense for Mr Connors to compare his observation that the fairie character of Puck is "pan-sexual" with the cross-gender casting of Puck's fairie King. However, such an observation would have required Mr Connors to have been paying attention to his own review.
Mr Connors could even have taken some extra initiative and explored what the holiday of Midsummer actually meant to Shakespeare's audience with respect to gender roles, and how that might possibly be reflected in how the play was cast. (Did Mr Connors even notice that Oberon was not the only role cast against gender type?) Alas, that would have required some actual interest in both the play's source material and in enlightening the potential readers of his review.
Despite Isthmus' stated mission to serve its local community, it apparently does not care enough about the local Madison arts scene to send a qualified reviewer to a local theatre production. Nor does Isthmus appear to care enough about the quality of its content to run it through even the most cursory editorial process. I would rather Isthmus continue to blindly praise every national Broadway tour at the Overture Center and embarrassingly fawn over every APT show than to continue sneering at the Madison arts scene. Isthmus may believe that nothing interesting can come from local artists, but those of us that know better are tired of being subjected to its shallow celebrity- and cash-driven prejudices.