by The Theatre Gay
Have you ever lost yourself in your work? So dedicated and focused that you are completely transported? So much so, that someone has to wake you up from your dream? The Shakespeare Theatre Company provides us a glimpse into the creative process this winter with their interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, running now through December 30. Ethan McSweeney takes the helm in this self-reflexive production, and provides us a glimpse into the theatrical process.
For those of you who need an update, let me fill you in. Midsummer tells the story of 2 sets of lovers who run into the Athenian wood to escape their obligations, duties and laws of their parents. Hermia (Amelia Pedlow) loves Lysander (Robert Beitzel), but her father has pledged her to marry Demetrius (Chris Myers). Theseus, the duke of Athens, (Tim Campbell) has instructed Hermia to marry Demetrius, or become a nun. Total cockblock, am I right? Lysander persuades Hermia to leave Athens to his Aunt’s house where they can get married. The lovers then tell Helena (Christiana Clark) of their flight, but, surprise, Helena is in love with Demetrius, who doesn’t love her. So basically, everyone runs into the woods. They encounter some fairies and some love flowers. In the end, everyone is with the right person, but not before the lovers encounter some midsummer mischief. Oh, there’s also a team of actors trying to rehearse in the forest, and one of them gets turned into a donkey. I’m seriously hoping you had to read this in high school English.
McSweeney sets this adventure in a grand Victorian theatre, and like all sets at the Shakespeare Theatre, it certainly is grand. Scenic designer Lee Savage went to great lengths to pull together this gorgeous set full of trap doors for popping out of, chandeliers for hanging on, and even a fireman’s pole for sliding down. The actors navigate this set with grace, and aplomb, jumping from nook to cranny, and back to nook. Accompanied by the ethereal lighting design of Tyler Micoleau, and the gorgeous costuming of Jennifer Moeller, the Harmon hall is transformed into a magical backstage full of fairies, and quarreling lovers. Due to the spectacular set, however, some performances were lost.
Shakespeare is about telling a story. He has written some of the most basic plots we have in western culture. Plots that have gone forward to inspire countless other works, the least of which are movies like Ten Things I Hate About You, and She’s the Man. When you weigh him down, however, with concept, and spectacle, you make Shakespeare incredibly difficult to watch. Unfortunately, this production was heavy in both of the aforementioned categories. The actors didn’t live in the world that the set created, but rather they swam in it. Speeches were sped through, unless there was a big physical sight gag, or prat fall. Lysander should be head over heels in love with Hermia, and shower her with flowery oaths. However, these oaths felt rushed, and all the lover’s relationships came off as underthought. Even Oberon (Tim Campbell) and Titania’s (Sara Topham) affair comes off as tame, when it should be anything but that. They are the King and the Queen of the Fairies, god damn’t!
Some performances did shine through, however. Bruce Dow shines as Bottom. His comic timing is without compare on the stage, and he and the Mechanicals (Christopher Bloch, Robert Dorfman, Herschel Sparber, Ted van Griethuysen) deliver some of best moments on stage. Adam Green’s Puck is fun to watch, and certainly high energy, although at times predictable.
The Shakespeare Theatre company has brought us a grand piece, full of light and color, but lacking in meaning. Seriously though, the ticket price is worth seeing that set. It’s running until December 30th, so maybe grab a friend for Christmas, and treat yourself. Go on, you deserve it.