Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Open Fist Theatre Company

The show casts its spell through August 13

By: Jul. 12, 2022
Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Open Fist Theatre Company

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, originating in the 1500s and one of William Shakespeare's most beloved and produced plays, has been adapted in countless ways over the past few centuries, including as films, musicals, ballets, operas, an animated Disney short, and even a disco-oriented off-Broadway takeoff called The Donkey Show, while having an impact felt in everything from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Dead Poets Society, and Woody Allen (A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy). Following all that, it is given a fresh spin by the Open Fist Theatre Company, changing the setting from Athens, Greece, to Athens, Georgia, in the antebellum South to mixed results. Leaving the original text intact, the comedy takes place on a plantation and focuses on both the wealthy family living there as well as their slaves, who are tasked with putting on a show for the gentry's amusement. Hilarity ensues with magic, fairies, and shapeshifting.

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Open Fist Theatre Company
Azeem Vecchio, Syanne Green, and Malik Bailey
Photo by Frank Ishman

The script itself is full of whimsy and broad humor and runs at a fairly breakneck speed, which seemed to pose a bit of a problem for the actors when the show first started. The language appeared to be beyond them, spurring them to speak too quickly and making it difficult to understand much, the Southern accents just adding to the confusion. Perhaps 25 minutes in they got their sea legs, though, relaxing into their performances with Monazia Smith as Robin Goodfellow and Michael A. Shepperd as Bottom in particular handling the wording deftly and with aplomb. Ann Marie Wilding (Helena), Dylan Wittrock (Lysander), and Devon Armstrong (Demetrius) clearly enjoyed the sitcom-style comedy, their pratfalls and mugging being endearing.

The scenic design by Jan Munroe is lovely, featuring a tin-roofed shack, a yard, what appears to be a hanging tree, and part of the plantation house, which oddly takes up 1/3 of the stage and yet is hardly used. There's also the head of a springbok on the wall, which is distracting because as far as I can tell there aren't springboks in Georgia and it's never mentioned like it was a trophy from a hunting trip in Africa. The costume design by Mylette Nora is also a highlight.

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Open Fist Theatre Company
Devon Armstrong, Sandra Kate Burck, and Dylan Wittrock
Photo by John Dimitri

In the end, however, setting this in a time of slavery is an odd choice for director/choreographer James Fowler. When the story wraps up, it does so with a soberness that resounds, but it's too little too late because the 99.9% of the time prior to that, it's just distracting to see "happy" slaves. It was a little too Song of the South for far too long to wrap it up so quickly with a dose of reality. It leaves a sweet-and-sour taste in the mouth that lingers more than the capricious lightheartedness that precedes it can balance to have the most power. It's chilling, but coming out of nowhere, it doesn't have resonance that is the intent. It ends up just seeming like a conceit.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is performed at the Atwater Village Theatre,
3269 Casitas Avenue through August 13. Get tickets at Click Here or by calling (323) 882-6912.



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From This Author - Harker Jones

Harker Jones has worked in publishing as a writer, editor, and critic for 15 years. He was managing editor of Out magazine for seven years and has written two novels (including the #1 Amazon... Harker Jones">(read more about this author)


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