BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Hartford Stage
Of all of Shakespeare's comedies, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is one that often rises to the top as a favorite for many theater-goers. Perhaps it is because of the universal themes of love and frolic, or maybe because it is a mix of the fantastical and ordinary, or perhaps because it is just downright funny and entertaining. But, whatever the reason one might have for loving this popular play by the Bard, the season opening production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Hartford Stage fulfills them all (and then some.)
As noted in the program, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is one of only two plays in which Shakespeare creates his own plot, drawing from several different sources. For those who are not familiar with the play, it centers around the pending nuptials of Duke Theseus (Esau Pritchett) and Queen Hippolyta (Scarlett Strallen) in Athens, and a number of Athenian residents including four young lovers Hermia (Jenny Leona), Lysander (Tom Pecinka), Demetrius (Damian Jermaine Thompson), and Helena (Fedna Laure Jacquet) and a group of common workers who fashion themselves as a theater troupe including Peter Quince (Robert Hannon Davis), Nick Bottom (John Lavelle), Flute (Matthew Macca), Starveling (Alexander Sovronsky), Snout (Brent Bateman), and Snug (Louis Tucci). The young lovers (both requited and unrequited) and the Mechanicals (the theater troupe) all find themselves in the nearby wood for various reasons and encounter the lively Puck (Will Apicella), and Oberon and Titania, the queen of the fairies (also played by Mr. Pritchett and Ms. Strallen). Mix in a magical love potion and mistaken identities and you get a raucous and hilarious night of frolic.
In A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Shakespeare's story alone provides beautiful prose, hilarious banter, and lyrical verse, but what makes Hartford Stage's production stand out is the absolutely breathtaking design elements and the staging by Director Darko Tresnjak (who also serves as Artistic Director) and Scenic Designer, Alexander Dodge. Mr. Dodge's gatehouse (inspired by the Biltmore Estate gatehouse) and lush greenery serves as the perfect gateway between the fairy world and stately Athens. It almost has a life of itself when it transitions from one locale to another and features prominently in a simply breathtaking montage towards the end of the play. Mr. Tresnjak takes advantage of every part of the set using the archways, bushes, benches and balconies to create layer upon layer of action and interaction. From the opening of the play with an orchestral flourish to Titania's closing song (which was sung magnificently by Ms. Strallen) the emotions and excitement on the stage simply do not stop.
Stunning scenery aside, the acting in Hartford Stage's production is also truly stellar. Every actor on stage captures their character perfectly. Standouts include Mr. Apicella's mischievous Puck, who nimbly sets into motion much of the action for the evening. Ms. Strallen projects a magical air about her as Titania and stands toe-to-toe with Mr. Pritchett's Oberon in a number of entertaining scenes. Mr. Lavelle's Bottom is also a standout performance. He brings such an energy to the role, often cycling between pop culture impressions and physical banter with the rest of the Mechanicals. When the troupe finally performs Pyramus and Thisbe towards the end of the play, the audience was roaring with laughter at the antics of the whole cast, but especially Mr. Lavelle's Pyramus (Bottom) and Mr. Macca's Thisbe (Flute).
In terms of the rest of the creative team, Joshua Pearson's costumes are truly magnificent. Special touches worth noting are Starveling's Moon Hat, Titania's flowing robes and Hippolyta's breathtaking wedding gown. The moments of music (composed and directed by Alexander Sovronsky) that appear at various points in the evening are beautiful, especially the aforementioned song by Ms. Strallen and the cast.
Overall, Hartford Stage's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is simply beautiful. It is funny, accessible and in a word, entertaining. The cast is brilliant, the staging is inspired and the set and costumes are thrilling to behold. So, whether you are a Shakespeare fan or even someone who typically chooses more accessible fare, Hartford Stage's production is one not to miss.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through October 8th. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Weekly schedules vary. For more information call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.com
Top Photo: The cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream