A Midsummer Night's Dream
Also see Susan's review of Pullman Porter Blues
First of all, that set. On the broad, unadorned stage of Sidney Harman Hall, scenic designer Lee Savage has created the forestage and backstage of a theater from a century ago, complete with raised footlights and a gutted grand piano. The dust is thick and palpable, the curtain ragged, the chandeliers missing most of their lights (though they're still strong and heavily reinforced enough to support the body weight of two actors at once). Still, the place casts a spell over the characters in all three of William Shakespeare's plots: the nobles and mismatched lovers, the rude mechanicals who want to create art, and the fairies who find opportunities for mischief in conveniently placed trap doors and heaps of costume pieces.
The costumes and hairstyles are roughly of the World War II period, although one of the workmen sings bits of showtunes that date from a slightly later time. (Not that realism has much to do with this dream vision: despite the midsummer setting, snow appears to be falling outside as the rude mechanicals enter their rehearsal space.)
Jennifer Moeller's costumes easily delineate the characters by social rank—with one exception, which will be noted below. The representatives of the upper class wear well-tailored suits or school uniforms except for Demetrius (Robert Beitzel), whose jeans and guitar suggest a privileged teenager's stab at rebellion. The workmen dress according to their trade or in sturdy, everyday suits. The fairies, meanwhile, gather their scraps of clothing from the theater's supplies (a top hat, a helmet, a puffy skirt); Titania (Sara Topham) wears a dress that resembles a decaying window treatment and Oberon (Tim Campbell) a tunic and leggings.
But then there's Bruce Dow's virtuosic performance as Nick Bottom, equally at home with broad humor, wonder, and sincere pathos. Dow—a regular at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, here making his Washington debut—brings a touch of Oscar Wilde to his portrayal of the stagestruck weaver: he wears an ascot and an elaborate waistcoat (a weaver would know his way around fabric, after all) and carries a foppish walking stick. Dow has the skill to show exactly how untalented Bottom is as an actor, but also the depths of his desire to perform.
Campbell and Topham, two other Stratford veterans, play the human Theseus and Hippolyta as well as the otherworldly Oberon and Titania. Adam Green gives a cheerfully manic performance as Puck and a more constrained one as Theseus' servant Philostrate. Capturing the attention in smaller roles are an almost unrecognizable Ted van Griethuysen as the would-be impresario Peter Quince and Nancy Anderson as a singing fairy with a passing resemblance to Marlene Dietrich.
McSweeny demonstrates an easy confidence with the play on many levels, proving himself just as adept with the pageantry of the fairies' court as he is with the (sometimes bawdy and obvious) slapstick during the play-within-a-play.