Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare Theatre Company

There are beautiful moments aplenty in Ethan McSweeny's production of Midsummer Night's Dream, but what excites me most about them is that they range from gorgeous visual moments to sweet, tiny gestures that perfectly encapsulate a character.  It's a sign that you're in good directorial hands, that you have a director who understands that both large scale and small scale moments are vital to a production's ability to communicate its story to its audience.

I'll start with the larger end of the spectrum, starting with the gorgeous set from Lee Savage. The Harman stage is transformed into... a stage, yes, but now a huge, gloriously decaying proscenium of broken plaster and faded red velvet.  A later scene finally reveals the full stage, replete with backstage detritus, costumes, exposed ironwork and a lopsided piano.  It's beautifully realized, right down to the leaks in the ceiling, slowly plopping into onstage buckets. This particular setting imbues the fairy kingdom with theatrical magic that feels wholly appropriate.  When the fairies make their first appearance and start decking themselves out with mismatched costume pieces, causing mischief like a full squadron of theatre ghosts, I was- quite frankly- charmed. What makes Jennifer Moeller's costumes for the fairies work so well is that she has managed to preserve a sense of dress-up and make-believe for minutely planned character designs.  Brava.  While I'm singing the praises of the design team, I must also admit to falling for Tyler Micoleau's gorgeous lighting design.  The move from the stark "real world" into the world of the forest and the fairies is lushly wrought and a beautiful reminder of how light can transform a space from one moment to the next.

There are plenty of big moments in the staging itself, of course, from the athleticism and acrobatics displayed by the fairies to the inevitable stripped-down forest fight for the lovers.  The laughs are big throughout the night as well, with a glorious showing from the mechanicals as led by Bruce Dow's magnificent Bottom and Ted van Griethuysen's sweetly charming Peter Quince.   The lovers do very good work, from the dopey Lysander (Robert Beitzel) and his Helena with a flair for the dramatic (Christiana Clark). I particularly enjoyed Amelia Pedlow's Hermia, who retains both her dignity and vulnerability throughout the course of a tumultuous night.  The real standouts for me in this production were the central trio of fairies: Tim Campbell's Oberon, Sara Topham's Titania, and Adam Green's Puck.  I've never seen Green better used- his modern inflections, seventeenth-century-rocker-chic costume and flair for humor unite in some mischief-making for the lovers that was gloriously fun to watch. Campbell and Topham are new to STC stages, but I certainly hope they find their way here again soon- I don't know the last time I cared so much about the king and queen of the fairies (or their human counterparts as Theseus and Hippolyta), but their performances were absolutely magnetic.

But let's not forget the small moments, because it's often there that an audience sees just how well a production has succeeded in shaping fully rounded characters and truly well-thought out moments.  Take, for example, our introduction to the mechanicals.  Lights turn on in the darkened stage, and on comes Peter Quince, ready to prepare for his first rehearsal.  van Griethuusen enters and begins to softly sing "There's No Business Like Show Business" as he bustles around the space.  Another character enters and- here would be the moment most directors would have Quince quickly end his sprightly singing in embarrassment at being discovered.  Not here- this Quince sings happily on, so pleased with himself and his love of theatre that he just doesn't care.  I was so taken with this moment that I held onto it all night- it's so small, but it tells us EVERYTHING about this character that we need to know.  Tiny character moments such as these would be revealed to us again and and again throughout the production, and it was terrifically satisfying, like a wonderfully rich meal when you've had to sit through reheated frozen dinners too often in the past.

It's not a perfect Dream, but by gum, it's an enjoyable one.  I've seen my fair share of Dreams over the years and sometimes have a hard time turning of my inner theatre critic and the analysis that served me in grad school, so yes, there were moments that didn't work, scenes that read in unsettling and unintentional ways to my eyes. [In the lovers' fight, I grew increasingly uncomfortable watching men inflicting increasing "comic" violence on the body of a woman as a sidenote to their competitive dialogue.  This was the most uncomfortably unbalanced I've ever seen that scene be played, and sorry- I didn't find it funny, I found it to be in poor taste]  That being said, my cousin was along as my plus one for the evening, and came at the show from the opposite end of the spectrum- she carefully read the synopsis and pressed me for a pre-show rundown of what she "needed to know."  So many people come to Shakespeare in the same way- worried that they won't be able to follow obscure language and complicated plots- and it's something that's easy to forget when you're on your sixth performance of Dream in the last two years (ok, I exaggerate, but NOT BY MUCH).  Her verdict?  She fairly glowed by the end of the performance- loved the humor, never felt lost, and was so excited by all that she'd seen.  I felt like I'd shared something special with her- my own enjoyment of the evening doubled seeing how much she loved it all, and it reminded me of how much I love seeing Shakespeare.  So thanks, STC- you made me look damn good for my family, and you gave me a beautiful Dream to take into the cold winter night.


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