Come and Get Your “Midsummer” Love!
William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is without a doubt one of the most popular comedies ever written. It certainly is one of the most produced and might be the play I’ve seen the most, three times in the past year already, with two more productions on my upcoming calendar. What could keep me returning to see five different productions of a play in a single year? There is an endless variety of what directors can do with Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed love, theater in-jokes, and fairy magic. It can be set in many different time periods, and there’s always variety and choices of emphasis between the three different worlds of the mismatched lovers, the fairy world in the forest of Athens, and the rude mechanicals putting on a play for the wedding celebration of Egeus and Hippolyta.
The play starts in the palace of Theseus (Javier David, who doubles winningly and wackily as Flute)) who is planning his wedding to Hippolyta (Madeleine Rose Maggio, also playing a playful Snout)) when he is entreated by Egeus (Michael F. Toomey) to force his daughter Hermia (Naire Poole) to marry Egeus’s choice of a groom for her, Demetrius (Blake Hamilton Currie), rather than her heart’s desire, Lysander (Carlos Olmedo). Helena (Sara Linares) dotes on Demetrius, upping the ante on the heartache. In Shakespeare & Company’s production at the New Spruce Theatre, directed by Allyn Burrows, we are in the 70s, as indicated by the hip music and the fresh and funky costumes by Stella Giuletta Schwartz. Hippolyta has a very definite Wonder Woman vibe, and Theseus is rocking red spandex with a T incorporated into a lightning bolt on his chest, immediately bringing The Flash to mind. So, our rulers are superheroes. That’s fun.
The lovers run off into the woods to get beyond the reach of Athen’s law, where we meet the fairy world ruled by Oberon (Nigel Gore) and Titania (Elizabeth Aspenlieder, lovely and lithe), with Puck (Sheila Bandyopadhyay) and the 1st Fairy (Gina Fonseca) laying out the quarrel between their leaders. If there is a fault with the production, it is that the fairies slow the action down with Gore outfitted like David Bowie in “Legend” as he proclaims some awfully fine poetry by the Bard and the assorted fairies (Cobweb, Mustardseed & Peaseblossom) are represented by puppets on sticks… which don’t turn out to be terribly expressive. One of the most magical moments, and something I have never seen before, is that Puck is doubled with one of the mechanicals by Bandyopadhyay and makes their transformation onstage in an inspired costume change.
The lovers do well in their Act II confrontation, which brings out the silly in Currie, and Burrows has them all running throughout the theater at a breakneck pace. I especially liked Sara Linares’s full-throated, quick pace with the text. Her heart and throat backed up her lover’s quest to the max. Neat quote by Allyn Burrow’s of the Joe Jackson song in the program: “Fools in love, they think they’re heroes because they get to feel more pain. I say fools in love are zeroes. I should know because this fool’s in love again.”
The mechanicals led by Toomey as Peter Quince is the highlight of the show. Everybody here is doubling in another role except Bottom (Jacob Ming-Trent), and all are having a great time poking fun at playmaking. No one is having more fun than Jacob Ming-Trent, though. Bottom is a role made to be devoured, and we saw Oliver Wadsworth make a feast of it at theREP earlier this year, but Ming-Trent takes it to a whole other level. He is a rip-snorting, belly-laugh-aching, comic volcano of a performer in this role. Watching and provoked roars of laughter as loud as the lions is giddily glorious.
The production is never less than fun and frequently had the crowd roaring with laughter and bopping in their seats to the 8-track classics in the score (sound design by Brendan F. Doyle). The New Spruce Theatre is a lovely space for some late summer outdoor theater with comfortable chairs and a beautiful stage nestled in the trees. Don’t forget your bug spray, though. There was a moment in the second act when the mosquitoes turned as ravenous as an actor.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays at The New Spruce Theatre through 9/10 at Shakespeare & Company. Tickets: www.shakespeare.org