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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

A Dream of a Midsummer Night's Family Carnival

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Vayu O’Donnell
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has hit it out of the park with its colorful and inventive Outdoor Stage production of director Brian B. Crowe's 90-minute, one-act adaptation of the Bard's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Filled with pleasures for audiences of all ages, this production is as near perfect a treat for a family night out as any theatre could offer.

Lovers Lysander and Hermia flee to the forest outside Athens because the Duke, Theseus, has ordered Hermia to obey her father and marry Demetrius. Demetrius follows them, and is in turn followed by Helena who loves him. The forest fairies led by their King, Oberon, and his aide, Puck, clumsily employ potions and incantations so that rather than setting matters aright, they cause both Lysander and Demetrius to fall in love with Helena. Also falling prey to the machinations of the fairies are a ridiculously funny company of artisans turned actors (one of their number, Bottom, has his head turned into that of an ass) rehearsing a play to perform at the upcoming nuptials of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta.

Brian B. Crowe, with the incalculable aid of his actors and creative team, has succeeded on so many levels that this production transcends all expectations that one could reasonably have for outdoor, abbreviated family-friendly Shakespeare. Particularly gratifying is the presence of interpretative insights and character details which would be impressive in a weightier, lengthier production.

The colorful setting for the forest combines with the costumes and acrobatically choreographed movement of the fairies to create the circus ambiance of the world of Cirque du Soleil. Oberon on stilts, circus-like costumes, colorful wigs, an arced stage, a series of circular platforms, all painted with a multitude of individually decorated circles, a high circular platform resembling a trampoline, a background of various shadings of powder blue interspersed with white clouds, a circular stairway, a ramp and a ladder, a series of Venetian gondola style poles rising from the stage and topped with multi-colored blown glass, and more combine to create an appropriate, esthetically pleasing magical setting. Much credit is due to set designer Dick Block and costume designer C. David Russell.

The young lovers are all costumed in modern dress and perform in a contemporary style. Each of their performances seems to mirror the outspokenness, independence and suffer-no-fools attitude so prevalent all around us. The best of these roles is that of the particularly outraged Helena, and Kaytie Morris makes the most of her incipient feminism. Ka-Ling Cheung is broadly funny as Hermia. After awakening in the forest to find herself alone, Hermia pleads to Lysander, "... look how I do quake with fear." Cheung makes it clear that her Hermia is not at all in fear, but is saying this to manipulate Lysander. Benjamin Eakeley (Demetrius) and Richard Dreher (Lysander) round out this quartet of fine performances.

This production grants a very high portion of its stage time to the comic relief of the artisan-actors and their presentation of their short play Pyramus and Thisbe. Their crowd pleasing antics draw much laughter and applause. Bottom wears a Swiss yodeler costume with shorts while the others wear simple workmen's clothes. Darren Matthias (Quince) handles the dry humor while Michael Daly (Bottom), Patrick Toon (Thisbe), Salvatore Cacciato ((Starveling), Phil Mutz and Nathan Kaufman (Snug) provide the broader, more physical comedy. Notably, Michael Daly nicely ends the play on a melancholy note as Bottom returns to the forest to try to recapture the moment which he only now senses when Titania loved him, ass's head and all. Here director Crowe shows us a man with a mundane life trying to grab at a magic moment.

Most traditionally presented are the rulers of both Athenians and the Forest Fairies. Alvin Keith (Theseus/Oberon) and Maureen Sebastian (Hippolyta/Titania) smoothly convey high status as well as the tension between battling couples. Vayu O'Donnell brings a strong acrobatic movement to the role of Puck. O'Donnell doubles as Philostrate (of the Duke's court), and most of the balance of the cast double as fairies.

Happily, A Midsummer Night's Dream on the Outdoor Stage of the Shakespeare Theatre fully hits the mark as summer family entertainment. Amazingly, it succeeds as intelligently examined, first class Shakespeare for adult audiences.

A Midsummer Night's Dream continues performances (Tues.-Sat. 8:15 p.m./ Sun 7:15 p.m.) through July 28, 2007 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey Outdoor Stage on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth, Route 124 and Convent Station, Morristown, NJ. Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare; directed by Brian B. Crowe

The Athenians:
Theseus, Duke of Athens: Alvin Keith*
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus: Maureen Sebastian*
Philostrate: Vayu O’Donnell*
Egeus, a nobleman: Darren Matthias*
Hermia, his daughter: Ka-Ling Cheung*
Lysander, her love: Richard Dreher
Demetrius, contracted to marry Hermia: Benjamin Eakeley*
Helena, in love with Demetrius: Kaytie Morris
Servants: Dan Derks#, Heather Gorby#, Brian Miskell#

The Mechanicals:
Peter Quince, a carpenter: Darren Matthias*
Nick Bottom, a weaver: Michael Daly*
Francis Flute, a bellows mender: Patrick Toon*
Robin Starveling, a tailor: Salvatore Cacciato
Tom Snout, a tinker: Phil Mutz
Snug, a joiner: Nathan Kaufman*

The Fairy Kingdom:
Oberon, King of the Fairies: Alvin Keith*
Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow), his henchman: Vayu O’Donnell*
Titania, Queen of the Fairies: Maureen Sebastian*
Peaseblossom: Ka-Ling Cheung*
Buttercup: Benjamin Eakeley*
Redbud: Richard Dreher
Moth: Kaytie Morris
Cobweb: Nathan Kaufman*
Night Shade: Patrick Toon*
Sweet Grass: Salvatore Cacciato
Dew Drop: Philip Mutz
Mustardseed: Heather Gorby#
Nettle Seed: Brian Miskell#

*denotes AEA
#denotes members of the STNJ Acting Apprentice Company


Photo: Andrew Murad.


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- Bob Rendell



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