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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare & Company

Also see Fred's reviews of Madagascar and Kiss Me, Kate


Cloteal L. Horne
Blending seasoned actors he has known for years with newcomers to his Lenox, Massachusetts-based company, Artistic Director Tony Simotes, trusting an imaginative leap, presents a wondrous version of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakespeare & Company. Running on the boards at Tina Packer Playhouse through August 30th, Simotes' vision of this Shakespeare brings everyone to late 1920s/early 1930s New Orleans, an age of jazz and blues.

Simotes, then an actor, appeared in Shakespeare & Company's very first production, Midsummer, when it was presented in 1978 outside on the grounds of the organization's first home, The Mount. These days, he and set designer Travis George feature beads, moss, and lighting (courtesy Matthew E. Adelson) which transport us to a new, magical realm.

Recognizable actor Johnny Lee Davenport (Bottom and Pyramus) and longtime Berkshire performing ace Jonathan Epstein (Quince) take to the stage and bring, at the very outset, the blues with them. Instrumentalists, too, join in. During the course of the show, actors occasionally play instruments and the music flavors all. This is not incidental but proactive in establishing the mood.

Basically, Lysander (David Joseph) and Hermia (Kelly Galvin) slip away from parental rule of Theseus (Rocco Sisto) and Egeus (the talented Annette Miller). Meanwhile, Helena (Cloteal L. Horne) is racing after Demetrius (Colby Lewis). Puck (Michael F. Toomey), looking very much like the mischief-maker he is, helping out with drops from a flower, reverses things as those who were being chased now become those hot in pursuit. Oberon (Sisto once again) is annoyed with Queen Titania (Merritt Janson). Oberon intends to get revenge through Bottom (Davenport). Bottom and other so-called mechanicals will perform a play-within-a play; Davenport also becomes Pyramus. He interfaces with Thisbe (Alexander Sovronsky). Bottom, with a donkey-like headdress, becomes "something" which Titania adores. Oberon discovers that Puck was erroneous in distributing the love juice and Oberon is corrective. Bottom returns to his original self again. In the end, lovers return and weddings follow ... Along the way, spells are removed.

Thematically, much is related to marriage and love. Fairies (Galvin and Horne) come along to bless occasions. The dream world, too, is enhancing as nightmare must be avoided. Virtually everyone in the impressive cast is versatile and most proficient.

It is said that Shakespeare delved into his own imagination to write this play as opposed to his practice of utilizing source material for many other works. Tony Simotes has written of a time, many years back, when, as a young man, he sat in Café Du Monde in New Orleans and began to wonder about establishing a presentation of Midsummer in that city—during a chosen time period, around 1930.

Alexander Sovronsky, in his capacity as composer and music director, is pivotal to the success of this production. He plays clarinet, ukulele and violin. Additionally, he is coordinating musical contributions from Malcolm Ingram (ukulele), Robert Lohbauer (drum and washboard), Jonathan Epstein (trombone) and Merritt Janson (accordion and guitar). These are not minimal. The music permeates immediately and the strong seasoning of New Orleans emanates from and through the songs.

Shakespeare & Company's sculpting of the Bard's comedy is also most gymnastic. Simotes has taught movement and fight for the company and he coaches actors such as Horne, Galvin, Joseph, and Lewis who prove that elasticity combined with energy equal enlivening performance! Calling this exhausting fun would be accurate.

Again, casting known actors with people new to the Lenox-based company works; well, it works like a dream. Examples: Cloteal L. Horne and Colby Lewis are in their first seasons. Rocco Sisto (with feature film credits and also appearances on television's "The Sopranos" and "Mildred Pierce") was a founding Shakespeare & Company performer. Merritt Janson, Kelly Galvin and David Joseph are in-between in terms of number of seasons with the company.

In all, Simotes' production is a three hour treat for the senses. He has taken an audacious leap to stage the comedy in New Orleans and that vision is honored through celebratory yet disciplined performance.

A Midsummer Night's Dream continues at the Tina Packer Playhouse, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through August 30th, 2014. For tickets, visit www.shakespeare.org or call (413) 637-3353.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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