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BWW Reviews: A Wonderful New Theater Inaugurated In Side-Splitting Style: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's New Home


Having just seen the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's premiere production in its new theater, A Midsummer Night's Dream, it's hard for me to stop saying wow. Wow to the theater, a three-tier structure that echoes the layout of Shakespeare's own Globe (albeit with the modern convenience of a roof - and some others including two bars and ergonomic seating that assures there is no standing for today's groundlings). Wow to the play, one of Shakespeare's funniest. Wow to the acting, the direction, the staging, the lighting. The audience is assured of over two hours of being in stitches.

The creation of the theater, a stunning addition to downtown Baltimore remodeled from the historic old Mercantile Safe-Deposit & Trust headquarters that survived the great Baltimore fire, would be a heavy lift by itself. The play is a heavy lift too; indeed the play was an unprecedentedly heavy lift for Shakespeare himself, who by 1595 had never done a comedy that combined nearly as much disparate material as we find here: a high-born and courtly couple, two pairs of genteel but flighty young lovers, a crew of "rude mechanicals" out to perform a play for a royal wedding, and a fairy court. Weaving all these kinds of characters who inhabit very separate worlds into a single plot required genius, which fortunately Shakespeare was able to supply.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company does its own kind of weaving with this material, taking its patented blend of ingenious stage business (for instance doing amazing things with a bottle of champagne in the early going or staging a catfight between two women with one of them suspended in air), modern music, and subtle up-to-date cultural references accomplished without altering Shakespeare's lines, and music from all kinds of sources, and putting it at the service of a solid reading of Shakespeare's delirious fun.

The play calls for a large cast (21 speaking parts), and CSC fills the roles without doubling, a delightful change from what is expected today, albeit one which makes it impossible to praise every performance. But certainly it would be wrong not to mention the women in the two mix-and-match couples Hermia (Rachel Jacobs) and Helena (Audrey Bertaux), huge parts with endless comic emoting (and the aforementioned fighting), who stayed game through the whole affair; Gregory Burgess, whom I've mentioned at least twice before in these pages, at the top of his form if I may put it that way as Bottom (the weaver who thinks himself a great histrion but ends up an ass, literally); Bobby Heneberg as Francis Flute, the mechanical who presents a classical heroine in the play-within-the-play a bit like Divine presenting Edna Turnblad; Scott Alan Small (Oberon, king of the fairies) and Vince Eisenson (as Puck, his wingman), who together combine supernatural incompetence and elan; and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly as Titania, a slinkily seductive queen of the fairies, who keeps a straight face while doting on a donkey, pictured above. I think one should also mention the fairies, including one or two wee ones, whose illuminated wings and crouching walks truly bespeak something uncanny and magical.

This commencement of CSC's presence downtown makes it possible for CSC to plan a whole repertory season for the first time, including five more plays, some of them from other hands than Shakespeare's, including Dickens, Chekov, and Wilde. Their arrival here is truly a cause for celebration.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare, directed by Ian Gallanar, through October 12, at The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. Tickets $15-$48,, 410-244-8570.

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