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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Also see Susan's review of Pullman Porter Blues

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Sara Topham and Tim Campbell
The idea that theater is just another form of magic is a cliché, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. Director Ethan McSweeny uses a decrepit theater as the setting for his scintillating production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company, with the twist that the fairies are just as enamored with stagecraft as the mortals are with theater.

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.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
A Midsummer Night's Dream
November 15th – December 30th
By William Shakespeare
The Court:
Theseus, Duke of Athens: Tim Campbell
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons: Sara Topham
Philostrate, Theseus' Master of the Revels: Adam Green
Lysander, in love with Hermia: Robert Beitzel
Hermia: Amelia Pedlow
Helena, in love with Demetrius: Christiana Clark
Demetrius: Chris Myers
Egeus, Hermia's father: Lawrence Redmond
Fairies:
Oberon, King of the Fairies: Tim Campbell
Puck: Adam Green
Titania, Queen of the Fairies: Sara Topham
First Fairy: Nancy Anderson
Changeling Boy: Maxwell Balay or Rohan Saxena
Mechanicals:
Peter Quince, a carpenter: Ted van Griethuysen
Nick Bottom, a weaver: Bruce Dow
Francis Flute, a bellows-mender: David Graham Jones
Tom Snout, a tinker: Herschel Sparber
Snug, a joiner: Robert Dorfman
Robin Starveling, a tailor: Christopher Bloch
Ensemble: John Bambery, Jacqui Jarrold, Joe Mallon, Max Reinhardsen, Gracie Terzian, Jessica Thorne, Katherine Renee Turner
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Sidney Harman Hall, 6120 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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