BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Alliance Theatre
I consider myself a Shakespeare purist of the worst sort. I wax snobbish at Shakespeare productions where Hamlet, language updated, sounds like a California surfer: "Dude. It was my uncle, Bro." I scoff at productions that situate themselves in some setting that's divergent from the original. News flash: Macbeth cannot be a one-man show set in an insane asylum, and Midsummer is definitely a hard sell in a Catholic school for girls. I like my Shakespeare straight up with a side of iambic pentameter. But soft! Methinks I've stumbled upon an anomaly that's making me reconsider my whole purist disdain for the Creative Shakespeare Catalogue O' Crap. That anomaly is ALLIANCE THEATRE's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that's playing on an outdoor stage at the Atlanta Botanical Garden through October 21. Though the production liberally infuses the Bard's most delightful play with a healthy dose of our 21st- century American vernacular, frames the action of the play in a modern garden being outfitted for a wedding, and cuts a significant portion of the original play, it's still pretty darn magical.
The whimsical (and brave) adaptation by David Catlin presents a frame for Shakespeare's play that is mostly benign. A group of gardeners, led by the earnest and enthusiastic Petunia Prune (Courtney Patterson), in addition to bearing the responsibility of beautifying a wedding space, have found themselves the chief source of entertainment for the upcoming nuptial day. They're to present a play, and they must work hard to ready themselves for the task. The gardening group's rehearsals begin with the scene from Shakespeare's Midsummer where the young lovers enter the forest to escape the oppressive rules regarding Athenian marriage matches. In addition to throwing us into the action of the play already in progress, this framing device eliminates Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus from the play entirely. Throughout the play, Catlin returns to the gardeners as they move the audience through the abbreviated Shakespeare. Catlin has a good ear for what constitutes the less-fun moments in Midsummer and uses that talent. But it's awfully trim. I know the play practically by heart, and I had trouble hanging on in a few places. Someone without intimate knowledge of the original might have trouble grounding themselves in the fractured plot.
The cast members - there are only six of them! - are remarkably versatile. Courtney Patterson, an ALLIANCE THEATRE favorite, shifts from garden leader to Titania to Puck with skill, helping the audience to keep the characters straight. Joe Knezevich, in his turn as Bottom, is wonderfully funny, especially when he *spoiler alert* dies. He seems well-researched, having chosen the best bits from the notable Bottoms of the past to blend with his own equally memorable bits. Adeoye as Francis Fern and Travis Turner as Clay Grout are true standouts. Both are commanders of the stage, and both seem equally at home in the bard's language and in the dialogue of Catlin's supplementary text.
The most magical element of this production is the staging. Picture yourself in the Atlanta Botanical Garden on a late summer's eve. The moon is full, illuminating the giant floral garden statues - here an ethereal mermaid, there a fierce dragon. Everything seems magical. And then you reach the heart of the garden, a tent. And there's a play. The majority of the playing space is made of green, multi-tiered metal discs. Maybe they're lily pads that little fairies jump across. And there are spinning metal casings. Maybe they're leaves that fairies dance in. And there are flowers and lighted orbs floating in a pond. And it rains on the stage. And you feel like the garden is enchanted. And for 90 lovely minutes, maybe it is.
The ALLIANCE THEATRE's charming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream brings their memorable On-The-Road season to a close as they ready themselves to reopen on the much-anticipated Coca-Cola Stage. And they've ended on a high note. There's no room for haughty derision here. This adaptation is much too dreamy for that.
For tickets and info, visit www.alliancetheatre.org.