The Washington Post
How Reddit story turned into novel and Netflix deal
Matt Query is rarely spooked by the natural world. In fact, the environmental lawyer feels at peace in eerie solitude, whether on his ranch in rural Oregon or on remote solo backpacking trips. But spooking others comes naturally to him. On Reddit’s r/nosleep — a place where internet writers share original, firstperson horror stories — his thriller “My Wife and I Bought a Ranch” was so engrossing, it led to a book deal and Netflix adaptation. “Old Country,” the novel, comes out Tuesday, and early reviews are comparing Query’s writing, alongside his brother and co-writer, Harrison Query, to horror masters Stephen King and Paul Tremblay.
Unexpected viral fame arrived for Matt Query after he had been casually posting on r/nosleep for a few years. In February 2020, Query anonymously posted the first of his six-part thriller based loosely on his experiences of moving to rural Oregon. The story follows a Marines veteran and his wife settling into their newly purchased ranch in Idaho. Everything seems quaint and peaceful until their neighbors
I’m no purist when it comes to exploring new conceits for Shakespeare. Last summer’s “Merry Wives” in Central Park, for example, was a delicious makeover of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” set among African immigrants in Harlem, by dramatist Jocelyn Bioh (“Nollywood Dreams”) and director Saheem Ali (“Fat Ham”). The plays respond like freshly refertilized gardens when tended to with deft dramaturgy. But they are not infinitely malleable if their root systems are damaged, as evidenced by the overwrought impulses director Sam Gold imposed on the latest Broadway “Macbeth,” with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga.
The Folger Theatre’s “Midsummer,” which marked its official opening Wednesday night, is an underwhelming case in point. Staged at Washington’s National Building Museum — a venue the company is using while renovations continue at its home in the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill — the play has been shrunk in a way that’s intended to emphasize the high jinks in the forest. This doesn’t have to be a fatal blow to a play that works well as a kind of midsummer lark. But those tweaks are at the expense of coherence and the work’s refined lyricism.
The cavernous National Building Museum, as it turns out, is a great place to see a play but not such a great place to hear one. Even with amplification, large chunks of dialogue float out of set designer Tony Cisek’s luminous palace of staircases and balconies and into the ceiling high above the stage. Although the tunnel entrance to the temporary theater radiates whimsical appeal — “The Playhouse” reads the lighted midway sign over a purple arch — what transpires inside is more muddle than magic.
Rather than starting in the Athens court of Theseus (Rotimi Agbabiaka) and Hippolyta (Nubia Monks), the story now begins with the gathering of the rude mechanicals, the dizzy band of amateur actors who decide to put on their own terrible play for the Athens swells. The shift is not a subtle one. The restructuring centers the evening on the operatic presence of Bottom (Jacob Ming-trent), who along with his deluded buddies, takes to the woods to rehearse Shakespeare’s funniest play within a play, “A Tedious Brief Scene of Young Pyramus and his Love Thisbe.”
Ming-trent, so wonderfully bombastic as Falstaff in the Public Theater’s “Merry Wives,” is sort of given the keys to the theater by the “Midsummer” director. I don’t mean that figuratively: The actor mimes his arrival in “Pyramus and Thisbe” as if it’s by motorcycle. His scenerychewing performance is calibrated to fill a big space, but it’s constructed with a desperate edge.
The mechanicals’ antics relegate to side show the mystical mischief of Puck (Danaya Esperanza), the jealous-lovers’ story of the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania (Agbabiaka and Monks, again), and even the overwrought sparring matches in the forest of the young couples (played by Renea Brown, Bryan Barbarin, Hunter Ringsmith and Lilli Hokama.) You struggle to hear some of the play’s most beautiful arias. Passages such as “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” fail to summon the enchantments that the words evoke.
The designers are leaned on heavily to fill the bedazzlement gap, and they do what they can. The eye is delighted by the luxe fantasy costumes Olivera Gajic dreams up for Oberon and Titania, as well as the donkey’s head with working jaw for Bottom, under the fairies’ spell. In fact, the exertions of this production would support the title favored by Ming-trent’s character: “It shall be called,” Bottom says, “‘Bottom’s Dream.’ ”
The designers for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are leaned on heavily to fill the bedazzlement gap, and they do what they can.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Victor Malana Maog. Production design, Tony Cisek. Costumes, Olivera Gajic. Lighting, Yael Lubetzky. Sound and music, Brandon Walcott. Shoreography, Alexandra Beller. Festival stage design, Jim Hunter. With John Floyd, Brit Herring, JohnAlexander Sakelos, Sabrina Lynne Sawyer, Kathryn Zoerb. About 95 minutes. Through Aug. 28 at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. 202-544-7077. folger.edu/