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BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: THE LOVERS' TALE Casts a Spell this Milwaukee Summer

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Shakespeare is back in the park, and though she be but little, she is fierce

BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: THE LOVERS' TALE Casts a Spell this Milwaukee Summer

There's just something about Shakespeare in the Park. First, there's the fact of seeing Shakespeare performed, which is infinitely more engaging and surprisingly relatable than it is when you're stuck reading it in a 9th grade English class. Then there's the fact of enjoying such marvelous vocabulary, elaborate phraseology, glorious witticisms, chaotic hilarity, and stellar performances beneath a clear blue sky -- albeit, Milwaukee enjoyed a strangely hazy sky this day.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is my personal favorite for all its magic, romance, and humor, so perhaps this review is biased. Or perhaps, as are we all, I'm just so thrilled to be back seeing a live performance. And given the enthusiastic response on the Marcus Center lawn, I'd wager I'm not alone in that sentiment.

Optimist Theatre's 2021 production is a touring show with a mobile set, bringing Shakespeare to 14 neighborhoods in and around Milwaukee. Shows take place afternoons and early evenings, every weekend through Labor Day. The play itself is a trimmed-down version of Midsummer by ML Cogar, whose selections focus on telling The Lovers' Tale.

Here we see Shakespeare's four lovers: Helena (Susie Duecker), Demetrius (King Hang), Hermia (Rebekah Farr), and Lysander (Fabian Guerrero). In the name of love, they find themselves in the woods and meet accidental mischief at the hands of the forest sprite Puck (Libby Amato) and the fairy king Oberon (Seth Hale).

The cast really nails it, bringing vibrant energy and charm to their roles. They never once stumble over the Bard's words, which is not only a mark of utmost poise, but also ensures the audience is never distracted or taken out of the world of the play. In key moments, this troupe is also laugh-aloud funny. Their love of both their craft and these characters is evident, and such genuine excitement urges the audience to sit up, engage, and feel invested in the hijinks.

The women of The Lover's Tale are particular standouts. Feisty and funny with plights you feel for, both Duecker and Farr have ample space to lean into hysterics and heartbreak. In short, they're a wildly entertaining duo and bring a refreshing modernity to their portrayal of these friend-or-foe maidens. As for the ladies' counterparts, Hang and Guerrero lend ample spark and vigor to each of the lovesick leading men. Altogether, they're a worthy, wonderful foursome.

Where the fae folk are concerned, Amato and Hale are nicely paired as Puck and Oberon, respectively. Amato plays Puck with an ever-present glint of merry mischief in her eye, embodying the iconic sprite with cool confidence. The charismatic Hale, for his part, shines in moments that hinge on comedic timing, for which he has a keen sense.

There is also puppetry afoot in this Midsummer Night's Dream, courtesy of Ron Scot Fry. It's a whimsical element that takes the theatrics to a dreamy place. Though it's a little confusing at first to hear a voiceover speak for one of the puppets, it's a quibble that soon makes way for appreciation of this imaginative choice. In truth, when the puppet Titania appeared, my theater-going friend and I each let out an "Oooh!" of awe.

All told, this Midsummer makes smiles and laughter easy. It's at once classic, escapist, and comforting -- just what we need from the theater on what we hope is the heels of a pandemic. It's exciting to think that this mobile production will bring Shakespeare to so many corners of Milwaukee.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Lovers' Tale is free to see -- but, as we're reminded before the curtain rises, it's not free to produce. Donations are welcome. For all the details on where Shakespeare in the Park is headed next, visit optimisttheatre.org/msnd. There you will also find COVID precautions, and notes on bringing in chairs, blankets, food, and drink.


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From This Author Kelsey Lawler