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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of Avenue Q


Scarlett Strallen and Esau Pritchett
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is so thematically rich that a director chooses, from many possibilities, exactly what he or she wishes to accentuate. Darko Tresnjak, the visionary, thoughtful artistic leader at Hartford Stage, most acutely delineates differences in class with his current Midsummer. The resplendent show, showcasing talented actors, continues at the theater through October 8th.

Hermia (Jenny Leona) and Lysander (Tom Pecinka) go off into the forest area outside of Athens. In so doing, they are defying parents, but then again, the young people are in love. Demetrius (Damian Jermaine Thompson) also happens to lust after Hermia. Yet, Helena (Fedna Laure Jacquet) is madly chasing after Demetrius. At one point, she carries a 1950s vintage wooden tennis racket while Demetrius totes a worn bag of golf clubs.

Another storyline finds King Oberon (Esau Pritchett) upset that he is in disagreement with Queen Titania (Scarlett Strallen). Oberon tells Puck (Will Apicella), a bold fairy, to place a liquid in the form of droplets on various people's eyelids. Puck, who is a mischievous type to start with, makes an error. He treats Lysander instead of Demetrius with magic herbs. Lysander, upon awakening, thinks he loves Helena.

We also have a group of Mechanicals which include such individuals as Peter Quince (Robert Hannon Davis), Nick Bottom (John Lavelle), and Flute (Matthew Macca). These people perform a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, within the play near the end of the production. Actor Lavelle, who is made into an ass (donkey) for this component, flies over the top with his performance. Generating many a laugh, his comedic stunts stretch to absurd lengths.

For the most part, Hartford Stage offers a sustaining and absorbing take on A Midsummer Night's Dream. William Shakespeare's scripting is also about love and authority. It speaks of a real world in contrast to a magical sphere. The play includes mortal humans as well as the fairies. Tresnjak, a director who has a vast comprehension of Shakespeare, and his talented scenic designer, Alexander Dodge, instead of creating an imagistic backdrop, go for a new look. A strength of this production, the setting features a modification of a gate house from an Asheville, North Carolina, estate. It is used as a symbol. Before one word is uttered, the audience sees the structure. It is solid and, on the one hand, the home of Duke Theseus (Esau Pritchett). The other side of the building, when turned, might reveal a totally imaginative or even surreal landscape. The revolve does occur, but one does not feel fully swept away into another realm.

Throughout the production, whether the impressive Pritchett is playing the Duke or Oberon, his voice is commanding and his presence, through his muscular physique, inspiring. Scarlett Strallen is alluring, disciplined and starring as both Titania and Queen Hippolyta. The actress, sensational at Barrington Stage during the summer of 2016 in The Pirates of Penzance, again demonstrates versatility and multiple gifts. Her song as the show winds down is lovely.

The end of the Hartford Stage presentation really is dreamy: Strallen's vocal rendition is sweetly transportive. Will Apicella, as Puck, while sitting up high, recites the familiar "If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended..." It is as if he asks people to listen to him and realize he meant no harm.

Sometimes, Tresnjak's rendering feels quite British. Joshua Pearson's costumes, throughout the performance, are an important and positive ingredient. Some of actors, at the outset, wear most proper attire.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is about those on the extremes of a social order. Some people are aristocrats and others working class. There is a world, during daylight, which is of reality; while deep into the night, the scene becomes more surreal. The current show is at its best with the actual rather than the imaginary.

A Midsummer Night's Dream continues at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut through October 8th, 2017. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.


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