BWW Reviews: Optimist Theatre Reaches Magical Mission with Shakespeare in the Park

By: Jul. 15, 2015

Optimist Theatre names their mission to reach artists and audiences across economic, ethnic and experiential landscapes. On opening night for the company's 5th anniversary, the landscape was an amphitheater in Kadish Park overlooking the lights of Milwaukee's sklying twinkling like stars where young and old revive thier souls with a 1967 take on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The company's new tribute to anti-establishment flower childfen playing in the guise of Shakspeare's fairies conjure mischeif in the forest along with their King Oberon and QueenTitania. The mayhem continues when two love struck couples muddle the magic between the forest's fairy royalty, yet the audience applauds a happy ending.

Ron Scot Fry creatively directs a smashing cast of debut and returning actors to reinvent the romantic comedy, which played to the absolute pleasure of young and old who wore wreaths of flowers atop their head to watch the performance. In the audience opening night, two young girls, tweens 10 and 11, one from Denmark and one from Brookfield, were visiting their aunt. For both girls, this was their very first experience with Shakespeare, live Shakespeare, which the two enjoyed while eating their sour cream and onion potato chips on a blanket covering the grassy aisles. What better way to celebrate the mission of Milwaukee's Shakespeare in the Park than through the fresh eyes of the younger generation?

On this evening, Todd Denning and Malkia Stampley create the dual roles of Thesus and HIppolyta of Athens, and Oberon and Titania, both fairy and Greek royalty with a regal charm depticted in the picture. Chris Flieiller, Artistic Director of In Tandem Theatre, mesmerizes the audience with his comic talents playing Bottom, the weaver and then actor in the play performed to celebrate the royal Athenian wedding. His equally funny counterpart, Puck, played by an effervescent Tom Reed, mingled magic and mistakes with theatrical aplomb, who also notes, "Lord, what fools these mortals be."

The four lovers in distress, Hermia and Lysander, an engaging Kristin Hammargren and handsome Shayne Steliga, couple with Helena and Demetrius, the often out of sorts Kat Wodtke and Emmitt Morgans, and cajole each other with Shakespeare's romantic poety regarding love: In the middle of the forest, when the mayhem comes to defining moment, Hammargren and Wodtke fight over their marriage fortunes, like two cats on the prowl. The comic moment defines their friendship, which they also resolve, because the woman believe as did Shakespeare, "the course of true love never runs smooth."

Equally enjoyable near the finale, Bottom leads his band of actors to perform for the King and Queen, in a play titled Pyramus and Thisbe, based on a Greek myth, which the audience reacted to with smiles and laughter.. In the scene, Robert WC Kennedy dresses as Thisbe to Flieller's Pyramus. Brian Miracle plays the wall between them, while Snug, featured in a great cameo by Marcee Doherty-Elst, roars like the lion that comes between the lover's romance. The two tweens enjoyed this play within a play immensely. To accompany all this mystical theater, Paul Terrein and Joseph Manussieur combined guitar and percussion for a two man band, which added live notes of music to the evening, often complented by Samantha Sostarich's voice in the role of the Wandering Fairy and Cobweb.

Shakespeare's play centers on multiple dreams and what a dream come true to have a company in Milwaukee offering free, even concessions require only a donation, absolutely free Shakespeare in the park. Anyone can enjoy a performance picnic style, placing blankets and chairs on grass without pretense. The lovely summer evening unfolds the foilbles of this humanity for audiences of every age, in any country or culture with universal commonality that recognizes the folly and final rewards of committed love.

The two girls' aunt was British and currently lives in Milwaukee, and she further mentioned she had seen Shakespeare's Midsummer Dream in Cambridge's (England) garden and proclaimed she preferred this version seen in Milwaukee's Kadish Park Quite a remarkable statement, a tribute to the professionalism of Optimist Theatre and their mission to engage all audiences on multiple landscapes. Be sure to stir up some starlt magic by experiencing this outrageous, outstanding production of A Midsummer Night's Dream only on stage through July 19. Walk away with a lighter heart and then dream how to further Optimist Theatre's future so free Shaksepeare remains in the park for years to come.

Opttimist Theatre presents free Shakespeare in the Park with A Midsummer Night's Dream at Kadish Park through July 19. For information please visit:


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