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BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Makes for Wintry Summer Fun at PICT Classic Theatre

BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Makes for Wintry Summer Fun at PICT Classic TheatreSome people always hope against hope that Charlie Brown will successfully kick the football. Me? I always wind up rooting for Nick Bottom, Shakespeare's caricature of... well, a lot of things. Today, Bottom doesn't feel as much like a commentary on the lower class or a "natural fool" as he does a die-hard community theatre veteran. His enthusiasm vastly outstrips his natural talent, but his passion for what he does- as a hobby, not as a paid profession- endears him to me. So a part of me always hopes that instead of making a fool of himself and becoming the laughingstock of the court of Theseus, this time around Bottom digs deep and creates something great.

He doesn't. He never does. But that's showbiz, baby!

Alan Stanford, director of PICT Classic Theatre, is clearly having nothing but fun tearing his way through William Shakespeare's fluffiest and most unsubstantial show. There's not a lot of plot, and what little there is barely matters- this one, ideally, is all about the fun, the chaos and the belly laughs, and Stanford and his cast more than deliver. With a clever set of doublings that ensure the star-crossed lovers and the amateur theatricals are played by the exact same cast, this production deconstructs the Shakespearean romance by showing us the same set of actors both enacting it and lampooning it.

If I've made it this far into the review without mentioning the fairies, that perhaps reveals that my preference in the triple plot has always belonged to the rude mechanicals. But two of Pittsburgh's finest pull spectacular double duty as both Theseus and Hipolyta, and fairies Oberon and Titania. As both kings, Allan Snyder brings a gentle strength tempered by humor, but his enjoyably sinister Oberon makes the biggest impression. Snyder is a veteran of the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, and when he gets to sing as Oberon, I'd wager he's definitely slipped back into his Phantom mannerisms, because he immediately gives the character that same playfully dark mystique. His distaff counterpart, Shammen McCune, has less material to sink her teeth into as the two queens, at least when compared to her star turn in The Tempest at the Public, bu her astounding sense of presence and gravitas grounds both of these powerful women, making them anything but subservient or secondary to their respective men. Tying the two together is mischief-making hobgoblin Puck, played with a refreshingly sloppy cockiness and bravado by Jacob Epstein. I have seen far too many poised, balletic Pucks that come across about as chaotic as the "Berries and Cream" lad, so Epstein's rendition, flying by the seat of his pants and making it up as he goes, restores a sense of anything-can-happen chaos to a role that could have been Cirque du Soleil in the worst way.

The lovers and mechanicals are all hugely entertaining, though all of them thrive best in their mechanicals track. James FitzGerald, seen recently as the Actor in The Woman in Black, deploys his chameleonic presence as the fey and persnickety Egeus, only to turn all that energy way down as the doddering, out-of-his-element amateur director Peter Quince. Watching his bluster in the former role, and his squirming terror in the latter, was a highlight of the entire show. Saige Smith shines as his attention-starved, flirtatious daughter Hermia, and her Starveling (comically always the last to arrive on the scene, due, transparently, to costume changes) is a fantastic send-up of every awkward elementary school pageant actor you've ever seen. Zoe Abuyuan's Helena is a mercurial diva whose mouth moves faster than her thoughts, and Abuyuan gets great mileage out of the running gag of Helena storming off, only to realize she isn't done expressing herself just yet. David Toole and Ryan Patrick Kearney, local musical theatre royalty, acquit themselves well as the hunky-but-interchangeable lovers Demitrius and Lysander, but are clearly having even more fun as the dumbest, most lunkish pair of amateur actors possible in the mechanicals sections. Toole's panic-stricken response to his own none-too-convincing turn as a lion, and Kearney's awkward mincing and camping through the least convincing drag role in Shakespearean history, had the audience in stitches.

Above all, though, this is Bottom's show, and Martin Giles is on a hot streak here, fresh from The Woman in Black and Downstairs. His Bottom is two thirds Don Quixote and one third Winnie the Pooh, affable, lovable, prone to biting off more than he can chew, but very clearly a bear of very little brain. Or a donkey, in this case- it's amazing how much subtle acting Giles can accomplish despite his entire head being invisible within a donkeylike apparatus through most of Act 2. We feel for Bottom despite laughing at him; the joke is simultaneously on him and with him, and Bottom seems to be having as much fun as his audience is, making it easier to laugh at him than at, say, Malvolio.

Swathed in pajama-like costumes for the Athenians, subtly detailed overalls for the mechanicals, and icy White-Walker-esque outfits for the fairies, the actors let their words and gestures color the plot, not their all-white costumes (by Zoe Baltimore) or the all-white stage (designed by Dominic Lagambia and lit by Keith A. Truax). This does feel like a wintrier Midsummer Night's Dream than most, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's good to revisit these pieces and blow the dust of cliche and traditional staging off of them now and then. PICT is a Pittsburgh institution, and with any luck, A Midsummer Night's Dream, with its moments of quiet beauty, bawdy humor and frenetic physical comedy, will remind audiences of just how lucky they are to have a company like this in their hometown.

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From This Author Greg Kerestan