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A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Aleah Waldron and Neil Faulconbridge
If it's Summer, Shakespeare festivals are sprouting across the English-speaking world. Fifty years ago Joe Papp launched Shakespeare in New York's Central Park—seven years after the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival opened under Tyrone Guthrie's direction. Now in Summer 2010 The Vortex Theatre treats fans of the Bard in the mile-high city beside the rosy Sandia Mountains to Albuquerque's first Shakespeare festival: three comedies in repertory over ten weeks. Opening weekend productions drew full enthusiastic audiences to this ground-breaking historic event.

Vortex Board member Leslee Richards, who directs A Midsummer Night's Dream, told me that the Albuquerque theatre community has matured into a mecca for actors, directors and audiences who love classic, contemporary, and cutting-edge theatre. The Vortex is starting with comedies appealing to audiences of all ages for this summer's launch but may present tragedies and history plays in the future.

Three directors have each taken an idiosyncratic approach to the romantic comedy they chose to direct. For The Taming of the Shrew, Nathan Simpson-Coffelt, focuses on the politics of sex and today's absurdities of courtship using contemporary costumes. For Much Ado About Nothing, Vortex founder David Richard Jones has taken a traditional approach.

For Leslee Richards, Shakespeare's enchanted forest of fairies and city of Athens become a midsummer night on the Wild West frontier. Setting the human drama in the 1880s Land of Enchantment places the characters in this complex and absurd dream together in classical Athens, English forest, and out on the Western desert full of desperadoes. Richards notes that when the late 19th century civilized world was inventing electricity, skyscrapers and air machinery, Billy the Kid's New Mexico was worlds away. In the past 130 years, New Mexico has drawn visionary artists, dreamers and mystics to Native American and Hispanic spirituality, hippie communes, and colonies of creativity. Shakespeare's fairies would be welcome here.

In this early comedy, Shakespeare's Fairy Kingdom toys with orderly Athens as it mirrors it: "What fools these mortals be!" To illustrate this looking-glass antithesis, Richards has cast the brilliant bombastic Ryan Jason Cook as both Duke Theseus and Fairy King Oberon. As Duke, Cook's voice and posture command obedience in the human world. As Oberon, he is master of fairy mischief, sending Puck to trick Titania into falling in love with the first creature she spies on —the ass-headed Bottom. As Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, the confident riveting Aleah Waldron strides forth in 1880s gauchos as a rival warrior conquered in battle but never conquered as a woman. As Titania, the supple ethereal Waldron swings about the stage in a hammock, costumed in trailing transparent chiffon, and transforms the often grotesque scene of Fairy Queen doting on crude earthy Bottom with ass head into a lush and lovely fantasy.

Andrew Mazer creates a quintessentially devilish Puck. With acrobatic gusto he leaps across risers on his mischief missions. His cartwheels and back flips demonstrate his power and delight as the ever-naughty servant of Oberon. As Philostrate, Master of Revels, his mirror role, he keeps his devil horns hidden under a bowler hat and camouflages his mischief with a scowl.

The four dazed young lovers wandering the magic forest are sweetly performed by actors mostly trained at the University of New Mexico and showing their growing talents all over town at various other venues. Bryan Garcia and Rachel Corona win audience hearts as the charming lovers Lysander and Hermia. John Byrom captures the fickleness of Demetrius, whose love shifts so easily between two women that we believe he almost doesn't need Puck's charm to confuse him. Joanna Furgal gives us the sadness of rejected Helena and then her outrage as she imagines that the two young men professing their love after waking from Puck's magic spell are mocking her. All four young actors convey with their adolescent mercurial emotions the play's theme: "The course of true love never did run smooth."

As seasoned actor-mentors, Rick Wiles (Peter Quince) and Neil Faulconbridge (Bottom) command the stage and the scenes of the crafts folk putting on a play. They shine the way for capable and enthusiastic apprentice actors Miles Johnson O'Dowd, Alora Haaf, Joseph Constantine, and Marshall June as Snug, Flute, Snout, and Starveling.

Director Leslee Richards has woven a seamless fantasy of fairy/human and classic/frontier quick changing scenes of romantic melancholy, bawdy farce, acrobatic excitement, and witty repartee—up and down a roller coaster of erotic anticipation. Valeria Rios-Giermakowski has designed a simple flexible set to be used by all three comedies with risers on both ends of the performing space and entrances and exits from top of stairs, under the risers, through the curtains—like magic!—with two swinging hammocks.

Teddy Eggleston has designed costumes for 1880s frontier townspeople and the timeless land of the fairies. The fairy costumes, especially on the children, display an ethereal evanescence in contrast to the flesh-baring bondage-suggestive gear of Oberon and Puck. Bowlers and black suits on Theseus and Egeus establish the frontier period where Lysander and Demetrius stride forth in comfortable cowboy gear. Helena's and Hermia's printed and striped flour sack dresses reveal the painful verisimilitude of women's subordination.

Will Power! The Shakespeare Summer Festival of three of William Shakespeare's Comedies is playing at The Vortex Theatre, 2004 1/2 Central SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106, through August 15th. Check online listings for dates and times of individual shows. Tickets are $15 each but you can see all three by purchasing a Festival Pass for $38.00. Reservations may be made 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by e-mail: reservations@vortexabq.org, phone 247-8600, or online at vortexabq.org.


Photo: Alan Mitchell

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Rosemary Keefe



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