One of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays is taking a darker turn at Write Act Repertory for the next month. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the story of love: how love drifts into chaos, becomes misaligned with nature and how all matters of love eventually fall into place at it should in accordance with the balance of the universe.
We have the Lovers. Lysander (Jim Martyka) and Hermia (Natalie Fields) are in love. Demetrius (Shawn Cahill) wants Hermia because he is betrothed by her father. Helena (Elizabeth A. Hillman) is in love with Demetrius, really in love. When Lysander and Hermia decide to run away together, Helena tells Demetrius, hoping it will endear him to her, when in fact he spurns her, even as she follows him in his pursue of the first couple.
Back at court, the Duke Theseus (Bradley Upton) tries desperately to woe his betrothed, the shrew Hippolyta (Kate Van de Goor). Paralleling the royalty of civilization, the king of the fairies Oberon (Jason Guess) is having a quarrel with his queen, Titania (Wendy Gough) over a moral baby boy in the wake of its mother’s death. The queen has a host of faires at her command while Oberon relies solely on mischievous Puck (Rasool Jahan) to do his bidding.
And last, but certainly not least, The Players comprised of local townspeople rehearse a play for the presentation at the Duke’s impending nuptials. Peter Quince (Phillip Kelly) does his best corral and direct this rag-tag production of Pyramus & Thisbe. Making it most difficult of the star of the production, Nicholas T Bottom, aka, Bottom the Weaver (Jim Blanchette) who has “William Shatner Complex” times three.
Is there anyone who doesn’t know what’s coming? The Players and Lovers get lost in the wood. Puck turns Bottom into a donkey whom Titania falls in love with after Oberon pours a magic potion into her eyes. That same potion is poured into the Lovers eyes so at one point both men dote on Helena instead of Hermia. It’s a delightful sit-com mess, that eventually gets worked out as the planets and star realign it their natural and intended course.
I loved the Lovers. Helena commanded every scene she was in, with the fierce snap of a hankie mind you, but her hopelessness and desperation rang so truly. Lysander inhabited such great charm and humor; it was easy to see why Hermia chose him. What girl wouldn’t? Shifting from crying fit to kissing frenzy, Hermia was the perfect love sick girl trapped between duty and hormones. Demetrius makes a wonderful shift from pure vibrato to humility during the course of play. This Lovers quartet has great chemistry together. Well done.
The fairy world was not the usually light and happy land that we know fairies to be. The production chose to underscore the rich and dark qualities of the forest, paying attention first to the actual organic environment. In doing so, this world was more foreboding than it was magical. There is a sense of real peril for these Lovers in this brave new world, for Puck at the hands of his anger master, from Titania who has become enamored of this new plaything. All my laughter in the woods was a nervous laughter, because it really felt at would something could go horrible wrong at any moment. If an element of danger is what this production was going for, then it succeeded.
Athens proper is played exclusively in upstage center of the proscenium, giving a claustrophobic feel to the civilized world. Again, I suspect that was intentional to juxtapose cramped civilization from the openness of the forest, but it did however, make the staging seem a bit awkward.
I loved how present the fairies were throughout the play, prompting dialogue and manipulating things unbeknownst to the mortals they so easily infiltrated. I believe the point was to make the audience feel at though the forest was alive around them and to a large degree that was successful. However, only half the company of sprites moved with real grace and lightness. And while that might actually be the point given the earthiness of this production, I question the wisdom of the three choreographed movement pieces for the fairies.
The costumes and make up, on the other hand, were fabulous. All colors and texture that one would find in nature were replicated to make these fairies of the earth, of the wood, of nature. Most costumes were successfully fashion to disappear into the set pieces, allowing the fairies to watch the comedy of errors unfold with these mortals along with the audience. There were “leaf” fills tarps suspended over the audience and “plants” going out from underneath the seats.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Write Act Repertory was not the lighthearted ramp one is accustomed to from this Shakespearean favorite. At times, it is as serious as it is clever. And that is what I have come to expect from Write Act, to flip the script and create a fresh take on an old favorite. Nice job.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare
Directed by John Jeffrey Soroka
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
September 20th through November 3rd at 8pm
Tickets & Info: (323) 469-3113