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Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at The Gamm Theatre

Sparkling production of Shakespeare's classic comedy

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at The Gamm Theatre

Shakespeare warns early in the first act of Midsummer Night's Dream that "the course of true love never did run smooth." In that warning lies the comedic core of the show, and the Gamm Theatre delivers a visually stunning, delightfully playful production that fully captures the Bard's vision. It's a thoroughly enjoyable, punchy take on the classic.

For those who may need a quick catch-up, the play revolves around two lovesick Athenian couples: Hermia and Lysander (kept apart by Hermia's father, who orders her to marry young Demetrius) and Helena and Demetrius (who once favored Helena but is now smitten with Hermia). Oh, and there's a third couple, the fairy king Oberon and his wife Titania (who is spending more time than Oberon likes with a changeling child.) Hermia and Lysander plan to elope; Helena spills their plan to Demetrius, hoping to win his affection. All four end up in the woods, where Oberon and his servant Puck sprinkle love potions and hijinks ensue. Meanwhile, a comically amateur acting troupe prepares a show for the upcoming nuptials of the Duke of Athens; their rehearsal in the woods ends up with the pompous lead actor transformed into a donkey, with whom Titania is magically besotted.

That's a lot of balls in the air, but Shakespeare's script keeps things moving at a pace that modern sitcom writing rooms can only dream of. And director Fred Sullivan, Jr. does a fabulous job bringing it to life: this is an energetic, muscular production where actors leap and scamper about the multi-level set (using every inch of Patrick Lynch's elegant, efficient design.)

The entire cast is brilliant. Angelique M. C'Dina brings notes of steely resolve to her Hermia. Michael Underhill does a superb job as the stalwart, earnest Lysander. As the lynchpin of the love triangle, Erik Robles plays Demetrius with notes of fire beneath a controlled surface. And Nora Eshenheimer is a standout as Helena. Her moments of pain and frustration are deeply affecting, and the scene where she accuses her potion-addled friends of gaslighting her is a master class in conveying a dawning awareness.

The gender-swapped pair of Oberon (Deb Martin) and Titania (Michael Liebhauser) are a delight to watch, and their scenes crackle. As do those between Martin and Marc Pierre as Puck. Pierre perfectly captures the half-smirk of Shakespeare's not-quite-up-to-the-task fairy fixer.

All the actors in the misbegotten troupe of the play within the play -- the "rude mechanicals" -- are spot on, ably delivering on the bathos of the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe attempted by a handful of half-baked hams. Their lead ham, Bottom, is played with over-the-top gusto by Tony Estrella. His comic timing is impeccable, and his broad actorly obsessiveness is hysterical, particularly in the scenes where he sports an ass's head.

Jeff Adelberg's lighting works superbly with Lynch's set (including some beautiful starlight effects and a luminous moon.) Jessie Darrell Jarbadan has used a range of styles and palettes for the costumes, using simple but effective Athenian garb and gorgeously intricate, stylized pieces for the fairy folk. Titania's changeling child -- which is really the cause of all that follows -- is rendered here as a clever elephant hand puppet, which Liebhauser operates to powerful effect.

This is a delightful production of classic comedy, and whether you've seen it many times or it's your first night in the woods, you are in for a truly magical experience. Highly recommended.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr. At the Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI through May 29. Evening performances at 7:30pm 17-22, 24-28; matinees 22, 28, 29. Masks required.

Photo by Jesse Dufault.

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