BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Murfreesboro Center For The Arts
When one hears the name, William Shakespeare, one often thinks of tragic lovers, murderous revenge, or tormented royals. If you have not yet become a convert to the The Bard of Avon, you may even dread the idea of sitting through what you may expect to be hours worth of old, confusing language which is beyond hope of translation, and opt to take a nap instead.
Whatever expectations you may have from the timeless theatrical master's material, you may leave them at the steps of the Center for the Arts as you enter the fantastical and delightfully entertaining world of A Midsummer Night's Dream. While this story is similar to the classic Romeo and Juliet tale through its introduction of the two star crossed lovers which the show follows, the magical forest on the outskirts of Athens (or, as the Center's production depicts, a world inspired by 1920s New York) is anything but reminiscent of fair Verona or its tragic occurrences when civil blood made civil hands unclean.
Directed by George and Connie Downer, A Midsummer Night's Dream depicts the story of Hermia and Lysander: two lovers forbidden to be together due to the former's arranged marriage to Demetrius (who also happens to be the object of her best friend, Helena's affection). When the rebellious sweethearts take to the forest to elope, pursued by Demetrius (and subsequently, Helena, following her hopeless affections), the traditional story is thrown into pandemonium as the youth's fates are taken into the hands of the wondrous creatures residing in the forest. Through the intervention of the woodland fairies and the use of a magical flower, (not unlike cupids arrow) the romantic impulses of our protagonists become redirected and mismatched in a hilarious comedy of confusion. Throw in a ridiculous troupe of players, and a quarrelsome marriage between the royal fairies of the region, and you are left with an evening of theatrical entertainment that is fantastical, hilarious, and anything but the bore your high school English class may have led you to believe Shakespeare's work to be.
Selected by the Downers for its signification of transformation, particularly amongst women, this production of Midsummer is set in the 1920s - a choice which adds to the defiance of Hermia as she runs away from her father to pursue her own freedom in love. The impact this period choice has on the production adds to the visual beauty of the piece, especially by the marriage reception of the show's conclusion in which the cast dances together, beautifully dressed, with the clean stylistic choreography of Emily Davis. The execution of this setting is more than a mere afterthought, but thoughtfully integrated throughout the material in the effective use of sound effects, which assist in the silent movie era comedic style of the '20s as well as creating the magical realm that is both blissful and chaotic at times.
It is clear that the company has a clear understanding of the meaning of their text, which is performed in a way that is understandable to a modern audience of non-Shakespearean speaking viewers, (which is an accomplishment in itself, as this alone can be a challenge which many nonprofessional productions of the Bard's work fail to meet) however there are some moments (particularly between some of the young lovers) when the execution of dialogue can feel a bit rushed by, as if the actor delivering the line is playing the idea, or their personal translation of what a line means, rather than actually using their words as a tool to express their sentiment. This is not the case for all, and certainly is not the case for the vast portion of the show, however there are select moments when the grandness of the Bard's expressive syntax feels a bit like an afterthought in a hurried sentiment which leaves the diction of a line compromised and the meaning behind an expression flattened. This creates a few points for the audience to work a little harder to piece together an interaction onstage, and leaves some aspects of the plot feeling a bit trivial or insincere. I'd like to stress again that this is not the case for the majority of the production, and should not discourage you from indulging in the beautiful and comedic night of entertainment, however, there are scenes in which it can feel as though some of the actors themselves are looking at their roles from the outside and commenting on the lightness and humor of the piece while they perform it as opposed to authentically being in their dramatic situation by using their text as a tool to express themselves genuinely and allowing the situational comedy of the piece to score laughs for itself. Regardless, these moments are sparse, brief, and quickly recovered from, as audiences remain gripped by the pandemonium which ensues in the forest.
This is not to take away from the performances of the young leads, who all commit boldly to their roles and succeed in earning many laughs from their audience. The comfort and enjoyment they all find within themselves as well as each other onstage is clear, and leads them all to discover many moments of playfulness within the material, breathing life and humor into their roles, and successfully leading their onlookers in the Shakespearean tale.
Fairly new to Tennessee, Aurora Boe gives an engagingly winning and satisfyingly genuine performance as Helena. Instantly likable, confident with her verse, and always strong in presence, Boe possesses a gentle sweetness in her which leaves the audience (as well as the meddlesome fairy-onlookers) helplessly rooting for her eventual happiness and discovery of love through her periods of frustration.
In the role of Hermia, Rachel Hortert delivers the rebellious ingénue with a naive innocence which puts her in a perfectly unsuspecting position for the dramatic comedy which transpires out of the radical chaos in the woods. Her forbidden love, Lysander, is played by Sam Downer, who owns the stage with great boldness and commitment, stealing many a laugh from his enthusiastically entertained crowd with a comedic timing that clearly comes natural to the actor. Particularly strong when paired together, Downer finds great chemistry in his temporary competitor for Helena's affection, Demetrius, played by Benjamin Hansen. The pair's boyish fight to win over the heroine which neither previously showed interest in is one which both actors greatly build off of the other in fueling, and is very funny to witness (if a bit distracting from the focal point of the scene in at least one instance).
Commanding the stage with gentle ease and a clearly deeply skilled understanding of Shakespearean performance, Jordan Scott is a treat for the production in the role of Puck, the plot stirring fairy who forces the romantic affections of the shows characters into chaos. The magical realm of the world is further realized in Adam Boe, playing the role of the fairy king, Oberon with a strength of presence that is clearly defined to the audience simply by his entrance as he struts with wordless power onto the stage. Boe possesses a memorable skill which demands the eye's focus whenever visible. Made complete by the truly killer makeup design of Alexius Frost, and the costuming team which includes Connie Downer, Heather Corban, Carol Clark, Valerie Conover and Keri Boe, both he, as well as his wife, Titania, played with grace and humor by Valerie Conover, are visual gems of this production, conveying power and mystical force over all. With the enhancement of Renee Robinson's lighting design- which proves to be one of her best yet- and the sincerely stunning scenic design of George Downer, the world of Midsummer is a place which truly feels dreamlike at moments.
The production also features original music composed by Nathaniel Chase Paul. The melodies are pretty, and while simple, they create an atmosphere that feels appropriate for the Shakespearean woods. However, during both the fairy dance number during the first act as well as their musical farewell at the show's conclusion, these moments both end up running a tad long. By the conclusion of the show's two hour and fifteen minute run time (immediately preceded by the excessively lengthy play within the show which is executed by the troupe of players), the final musical moment, which truthfully creates an enjoyable moment of beauty and magic, ultimately chops up the final monologue of Puck, and slows down the show's final sentiment, which, due to the length of the piece, may leave some audiences feeling more antsy than transported.
The style with which the material is addressed finds some of its strongest moments in the band of players, led by the overly self-loving performer, Nick Bottom, played by Dakota Green. These players make even the seemingly simple set change a moment for theatrical extravagance, which is as diverting to audiences (if not more) than some of Shakespeare's great monologues of conflict which later rear their head in the woods. Green proves to be a very gifted actor with the words of the Bard, and seems a natural fitting for the role. While the play within the show which ends the second act is one which begins as a high point of the production, its excessive length is filled with strong performances from the whole troupe involved, and while a bit of a traffic jam which stands between the completed tale and the curtain call, it is very enthusiastically and comedically performed with dedication by all involved.
All in all, the Center for the Arts's production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream delivers a fun performance which will certainly leave you laughing and transported into a majestical evening of enjoyment for all. Playing Nov 2-11 at the Center for the Arts 110 W College St, Murfreesboro, TN, get your tickets for William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at www.boroarts.org or by calling (615) 904-2787