Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Review - 60s Music Galore

 

Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Ann Keen. Set in America in the early 1960s and infused with the music of that era, this production is interesting if not innovative.

 

Nicola Rinow (Helena) and Bryan Breau (Demetrius)

 

Shakespeare’s most popular comedy follows the tangled paths of four lovers as they chase one another through the woods, their fates altered without their knowledge by fairy magic. Meanwhile, a group of “rude mechanicals” rehearses a play to be performed at the duke’s wedding, and one of their number is also caught up in the fairies’ antics.

 

Aaron Wertheim (Flute) and Kevin M. Grubb (Peter Quince).

 

The 1960s concept extends to the design much more than the acting or interpretation of the text itself. The music is perhaps the most successful element of this production, with an ensemble of colorfully-clad fairies singing live, harmonized arrangements of popular 60s tunes that match the story thematically. The singers are not as strong as they might be, and volume is lost at times, but the overall idea works well, especially since the 60s style is also incorporated into the parts of Shakespeare’s text that are sung.

 

Laura Sturm (Titania) and Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom)

 

Costumes by Alaina Moore are another delightful element of the storytelling; the spirit of the 60s is well-captured in the humans’ clothing, and the fairy costumes are a nice, traditional interpretation of Shakespeare’s magical creatures, dressed in pastels, silver, and plenty of glitter.

 

Miriam Reuter (Puck)

 

The acting in this production is a bit of a mixed bag. Miriam Reuter is an energetic, engaging Puck whose jaunty manner and interactions with the audience are a highlight of the production. The mechanicals are entertaining; Aaron Wertheim brings a surprising amount of personality to the small part of Flute, as does James Dolbeare in the role of Snug. Jessica McCartney is amusing as a no-nonsense, gender-bent Starvling. Keith Cavanaugh is almost too vigorous in his interpretation of Bottom, lessening the impact of his melodramatic acting as Pyramus in Act V.

 

Aaron Wertheim (Flute), Charles Askenaizer (Snout) and Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom). Photo: Nicole Lewter. All other photos by Richard Engling

 

Double-casting Hippolyta and Theseus with Titania and Oberon makes so much sense to me thematically that it is always strange to see the parts cast separately, as they are here. Laura Sturm is a perfectly adequate, if not spectacular fairy queen, but Joey Banks doesn’t quite emanate power in the way one expects from the king of the fairies, and his trick of enchanting Titania seems more mean-spirited than clever with such a one-dimensional Oberon.

 

McKenna Kirchner (Peasblossom), Laura Sturm (Titania), Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom) and Madisen Dempsey (Mustardseed)

 

Hilary Holbrook as Hermia gives the strongest performance of the four lovers; the men are less engaging than the women, and Nicola Rinow’s Helena reads as more cartoonish than genuine. The mentioning of “race relations” as part of the historical moment of the play in the press release hints that perhaps the casting of black actor Jos N. Banks is meant to imply that Egeus’ disapproval of his daughter’s love of Lysander is racially motivated, but this is not clearly presented, and it may simply be that Banks was the best actor for the part. Charley Jordan plays a very one-note Egeus set to one volume (yelling), so any nuance that may have been present in this casting is lost.

 

Hilary Holbrook (Hermia) and Jos N. Banks (Lysander)

 

Overall, the production is a fairly traditional interpretation of Shakespeare’s text, executed well but not artistically remarkable. 

 

Schedule and Ticket Information

Location: The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Dates: Sunday, April 24 through Sunday, May 22, 2016

Curtain Times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM

Tickets: Regular: $25. Students: $10, Seniors: $20. Tickets are available at the Polarity Ensemble Theatre website and 773-404-7336.

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