BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - A Sideshow Take On The Bard
Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, currently playing at City Theatre takes the Bard to a 1920's circus sideshow.
With four intertwining plot lines, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is arguably Shakespeare's most popular comedy. The play begins in Athens, the first act introduces the lovers, Hermia (Chelsea Beth) and Lysander (Mario Ramirez) who want to marry despite her father, Egeus' (AaRon Williams) objections. Upstanding Athenian Demetrius (John Smith) has permission to wed Hermia, but she does not love him. Her friend Helena (Lizabeth Waters) is head over heels for Demetrius, but he cannot stand the sight of her. Egeus begs his king, the soon to be married Theseus (J Kevin Smith) to force his daughter to marry or face her death. Theseus gives the girl one day to decide her fate. The young couple Hermia and Lysander determine to flee Athens and live where it's laws cannot reach them. Helena is informed of their plan and runs to Demetrius to inform him in an effort to gain his favor. In the meantime a group of hapless circus sideshow performers, traditionally known as the Rude Mechanicals gather to put on a play in honor of Theseus and Hippolyta's (Susannah Hill) wedding. Quince (Lionel Garza), Bottom (Levi Gore), Flute (Amber Wilson), Snout (Mike DiChello) and Starveling (Denver Surgener) are given their roles in the production and agree to meet in the forest to rehearse. That evening in the wood we meet queen of the fairies, Titania (Heather Bullard) and her court. Puck (Marc Balester) warns her that the fairy king is on his way. Oberon (Jason Gaf) enters an the couple clash over a Changeling Boy (Michael Logue) the queen has claimed as her follower. The fairy king vows revenge on his queen and sends Puck on an errand to fetch a flower that will make those anointed by it fall madly in love with the next creature they see. The young couples enter the forest and Oberon takes pity on poor Helena being treated badly by Demetrius. Ordering Puck to find Demetrius and put the juice of the magic flower in his eyes, Oberon leaves to find Titania to play a nasty trick on her. Having only the description of 'an Athenian', Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and suddenly Lysander is madly in love with Helena, leaving Hermia abandoned and confused. Puck crosses paths with the Rude Mechanicals and being the trickster he is, he puts the head of an donkey on Bottom, who happens to wake the fairy queen and she, under the influence of the flower, falls in love with him. In true Shakespearean fashion, all the personal knots untangle comically and the two couples return to Athens to be wed with Theseus and Hippolyta. The play ends with a performance by the Rude Mechanicals of an extremely silly version of Pyramus and Thisbe.
I have had the pleasure of directing A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM on several occasions, it's one of the shows closest to my heart. It never fails to entertain me and I love the directorial creativity with each production I see. Director Lindsay McKenna has done an excellent job with the 1920's theme, the side show elements for the Rude Mechanicals are brilliant and her costume design is equal parts stunning and perfectly silly. Standouts include Levi Gore as Bottom, his bombastic Everyman is inspired and he is fearless in his performance. The troupe of Mechanicals are over the top, silly fun, exactly as they should be. The fairy court of Peasblossom (Hannah Enright), Mote (Allegra Fox), Cobweb (Savannah Hill) and Mustardseed (Ashley Sauls), sing and dance beautifully and add an element of the ethereal. As the fairy regents, Bullard and Graf are beautiful and commanding, holding our attention effortlessly. The couples, Smith, Beth, Waters and Ramirez are sweet and attractive, their forest scenes are well paced and action packed. Ross Avant as Theseus's attendant Philostrate, has some truly funny moments in a very small role. The highlight of the evening is seeing Marc Balester's return to the Austin stage. As Puck, he is costumed as a circus roustabout and beautifully bridges the gap between the real and magical worlds. His snarky obedience to Oberon is absolutely hilarious and his commanding presence is magnetic. The few flaws that were apparent I'm certain were due to the opening night performance I attended. There were some volume difficulties throughout the cast, making some of the dialogue difficult to hear clearly. The air conditioner was turned off during the first act and by intermission the theatre was unbearably hot and airless. The theatre cooled by the opening of the second act and the system was left on for the remainder of the play. I'm certain the air was turned off due to its noise, an all too common practice, but it made the audience very uncomfortable and the machine noise was unnoticeable during act two. I'm sure adjustments have been made by the theatre staff.
City Theatre's production is a joyous celebration of Shakespearean comedy and great summer escapism. I recommend A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM as a fun evening of entertainment with a great cast retelling a classic yarn.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
by William Shakespeare
directed by Lindsay McKenna
City Theatre, 3823 Airport Blvd, Austin
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Tickets: $25 - $15, citytheatreaustin.org