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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

It Really is A Midsummer Night's Dream
on Shakespeare Theatre's Outdoor Stage

As it did four years ago, the Shakespeare Theatre has struck gold with a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for its annual "Outdoor Stage" production of the Shakespeare Theatre at the amphitheatre on the grounds of the College of St. Elizabeth at Convent Station in Morristown. When word gets out that the play is back in such fine fettle, I expect that grateful and appreciate New Jersey families will be flocking in droves to see the thoroughly entertaining, artistically satisfying, family friendly, eminently accessible one hour and forty minute (there is no intermission) production of the never more magical A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is difficult to conceive of a Shakespeare production which could bring more delight both to adults and children from as young as five or six years of age.

Perhaps it would be wise to read a short précis of the plot to youngsters before embarking for Convent Station. This is the one about young lovers Lysander and Hermia who 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.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Robert Clohessy, James Russell, Conner Carew, John Hickok and Zach Fineblum

Some of the things that make this production special are:

—a crystal clear, lucidly spoken, modern sounding reading and performance of a judiciously edited text which transforms the four long lovers into relatable adolescents with contemporary attitudes and postures.

—fanciful, witty costumes which mix classical and modern elements and a riot of colors suggestive of the phantasmagorical world of Alice in Wonderland (or hereinafter the magical, fairy inhabited wood outside of Athens in A Midsummer ... ).

—a colorful, hanging flower festooned, richly complex setting which extends into the seating area with a stone outdoor rotunda and sports a pond which provides the venue for delightful, knockabout antics by the young lovers. After the sun goes down, the forest is bathed with warm, saturated colors from a Technicolor-infused lighting palette.

Adult complexity is in the details. There is a magical moment at the end when Bottom pauses in his departure from the court as he and Hippolyta look directly into each other's eyes. There is a sense of a connection between them, a shared memory. It is one that is neither linear nor direct, but it tantalizingly suggests that there are aspects to our lives beyond the physical.

In addition to set designer Adam Miecielica, lighting designer Tony Galaska, and costume designer Kara Harmon, acknowledgement is due to sound designer Steve Beckel for his natural sounding, crisp and clear, outdoor sound design. Director Cameron Watson has clearly scoured the text to find a plethora of "bits of business" to enhance the evening's pleasure. One such bit finds Puck looking at audience members' shirt/blouse labels and announcing them as he searches for an Athens label to help him to identify Demetrius.

Rebecca Mozo (Hermia), Jack Moran (Lysander), Brian Cade (Demetrius) and Emily Kunkel (Helena) expertly form their own loose and smooth ensemble within the ensemble. Still, Kunkel is extra special as she sputters in high dudgeon at the perceived slights of her companions.

Nitya Vidyasagar displays just the right blend of haughtiness and vulnerability in the dual roles of Hippolyta and Titania. Josh Carpenter clearly delineates the chasm between the seriousness of the former and the immature playfulness of the latter in the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon. Seamus Mulcahy is a very amusing, unfussy Puck. Mulcahy is particularly funny when his Puck wields the elaborate water gun which he sometimes employs in the manner of a pre-adolescent "meanie."

Robert Clohessy (Bottom), and James Russell, Zach Fineblum, Connor Carew and Stewart Schneck as his fellow workmen-thespians reach their apogee when they finally get to perform their brief, heavily and ridiculously annotated play for the Duke's court. Outlandishly costumed and employing vaudevillian low-brow comic tactics, they breathe full life and humor into Shakespeare's hilarious extended low comedy sketch which has sent audiences home chuckling for centuries.

Each of the artists whose contributions have brought this Midsummer Night's Dream to the stage have sprinkled it with a magic potion which will likely cause audiences to fall in love with it at first sight.

A Midsummer Night's Dream continues performances (Evenings Tuesday - Sunday / Matinees Saturday & Sunday) through July 31, 2011, at the at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Outdoor Stage, 2 Convent Road (at Convent Station), Morris Township, NJ (on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth). Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare; directed by Cameron Watson

Cast
Hippolyta/ Titania.........................Nitya Vidyasagar
Theseus/ Oberon............................Josh Carpenter
Philostrate/Puck...........................Seamus Mulcahy
Egeus/ Peter Quince............................John Hickok
Hermia.............................................Rebecca Mozo
Demetrius..............................................Brian Cade
Lysander...............................................Jack Moran
Helena.................................................Emily Kunkel
Nick Bottom....................................Robert Clohessy
Flute...................................................James Russell
Starveling..........................................Zach Fineblum
Snout..................................................Connie Carew
Snug..............................................Stewart Schneck
Fairies..............Katie Van Rensalier, Samantha Blain
......................................Dylan Digel, Travis Johnson
........................Jennifer Mogback, Maggie Schweppe


Photo: ©Samuel Allen


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- Bob Rendell



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