Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
A Midsummer Night's Dream
In his third visit to these enchanted woods, Dowling has brought along David Bolger as co-director. Bolger, a choreographer who, among many other credits, created the whip-smart dances for the Guthrie's H.M.S. Pinafore, surely had a major role in serving up a Midsummer Night's Dream that never stands still, and keeps the audience in a thrall from start to its joyful finish.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is among Shakespeares must fanciful plays, populated with fairies and sprites who interact with one another as well as with mere mortals. On the eve of the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, the Duke is asked to resolve the quandary of four young lovers: Hermia and Lysander, in love with one another; Demetrius, also in love with Hermia; and Helena, in unrequited love with Demetrius. Hermia's father has chosen Demetrius for her to marry, and Theseus defers to her father's authority. The desperate Hermia and Lysander flee through the woods to marry outside of Athens before she can be forced to wed Demetrius. Learning of this plot, Demetrius pursues the couple, with Helena following in hopes of winning over Demetrius.
A ragtag amateur theatrical troupe is also in the woods, away from public view, to practice a play they will present as entertainment at Hippolyta and Theseus' wedding. The troupe is led by Peter Quince, but the dominant player is the overbearing Nick Bottom. Finally, the fairies are out in force in the woods, and the Fairy King, Oberon, is rebuffed by the Fairy Queen, Titania. To retaliate, Oberon calls upon his attendant Puck to cast a spell causing Titania to fall in love with the first creature she sees. Puck obliges, and to add to the prank, gives Nick Bottom the head of a donkey, and then arranges for him to be the object of Titania's ardor. Feeling sympathy for the lovelorn Helena, Oberon also directs Puck to cast a spell on Demetrius causing him to fall in love with her. However, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and casts the spell upon him. Oh, what a web of merry confusion spins from there!
This being a comedy by Shakespeare, we never doubt that all will turn out well, but watching the mixed up lovers plead their cases, and the woefully inept players prepare their drama for the royal wedding is a constant delight for the eye, rush for the funny bone, and tonic for the heart.
The casting of players in this production could not be betterit is as if Puck sprinkled his magic in each performer's eyes to instill within them the essence of their character. And speaking of Puck, he is played by the incredibly talented Tyler Michaels with keen humor, physical abandon, and sharp wit. In this romantic mix-up, he is not the object of any character's affection, but wins the love of every member of the audience.
Nicholas Carriere is double cast as Theseus and Oberon; likewise, Christina Acosta Robinson plays both the queens, Titania of the fairies, and the mortal queen Hippolyta. The dual casting emphasizes the similarities and differences between mortal and magical royals. As Theseus and Oberon, Carriere balances regal stature and authority with an eye-winking appreciation for the froth that ensues. Robinson's characters play the extremescalm and solemn Hippolyta, and Titania, unstrung by her passion for the donkey-headed Nick Bottom.
As Bottom, Andrew Weems draws gales of laughter, so wrong-headedly confident in his flabby acting chops. Michael Fell, as reserved Frances Flute, comes to flaming life playing the femme fatale, in drag, in the ridiculous play-within-a-play performed by the troupe. The entire troupe of thespians are a delight, playing off one another with great timing and empathy. Similarly, each of the fairies is a unique character that creates a distinct personality through their response to the events of the evening. Their movements take the form of highly energetic yet graceful dance. When not part of the action, the fairies each find a perch around the auditorium, watching the proceedings with the same keen interest as other audience members.
The foursome of young lovers are all well-suited to their roles. Most noteworthy is Emily Kitchens as Helena. She manages to bring comic flair to the downtrodden, unrequited lover, who becomes incredulous when, after Puck's mischief, she is pursue not by one but by both of young men. Eleonore Dendy as Hermia, so sweetly innocent in her devotion to Lysander, becomes fiercely protective when the tables are turned. Both Zach Keenan as Lysander and Casey Hoekstra as Demetrius create appealing portraits of young men in love, with both romantic and lustful intentions in evidence.
The costumes created by Fabio Toblini by are wonderful flights of imagination. For the Mechanicals, as the theater players are known, the clothes are those of small town working folks, emphasizing the rube-ness of these would-be thespians. The four young lovers are first in simple modern dress, till their garments are whisked away, leaving them guilelessly in their skivvies. The fairies are wrapped in costumes as light and shimmering as gossamer, both immodest and completely innocent.
The production places seating at the back of the Wurtele's thrust stage, creating a theater in the round. Actors enter and exit from all sides of the stage, descend from the flies, and rise up from the trap. The effect creates a world without boundaries, without a sense or order, where anything is liable to happen. Frank Butler has lit the play with a rich palette of color, extending our sense of magic of these woods. Christopher Ash's projections above the stage depict the fertile elegance of the woods, with curvilinear lines emerging as if vines, mirroring the course of the fairies' mischief and the humans' follies.
Shakespeare's tale points out the foolishness with which we attach deep meaning to romantic love, bonds that can be realigned with a wisp of fairy dew, yet also affirming the deep satisfaction that is felt when that love is returned and two feel joined as one. It is by turns silly, sensuous, unlikely, inevitable, joyful, and comforting. This Midsummer Night's Dream is a perfect antidote for the dark vale of our winter.
Continues at the Guthrie Theater's Wurtele Thrust Stage through March 29, 2015. 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55115. Tickets from $23.00 - $72.00. On stage seating available, $29.00 - $35:00, Seniors (62+) and Students (with ID), $23.00 - $29.00; Children, $14.50 - $17.50. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org.
Writer: William Shakespeare; Directors: Joe Dowling and David Bolger; Set Designer: Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Designer: Fabio Toblini; Lighting Designer: Frank Butler; Composer: Keith Thomas; Sound designer: Scott W. Edwards; Projection Designer: Christopher Ash; Dramaturg: Carla Steen; Voice and Language Consultant: Andrew Wade; Stage manager: Tree O'Halloran; Assistant stage managers: Chris A. Code and Michele Hossle; Assistant Director/Dialect Coach: Joseph Papke; Casting Consultant: McCorkle Casting, LTD; Design assistants: Lisa Jones (costumes), Ryan Connealy (lighting), Alan Hanson(spotlights), Reid Rejsa (sound); Rehearsal Pianist: Dawn Baker; Interns: Heather Pickering (directing), Anne Peterson (dramaturgy), Erin Connelly (stage management).
Cast: Jay Albright (Peter Quince), Darius Barnes (Moth), Joe Bigelow (Cobweb), Nicholas Carriere (Theseus/Oberon), Eleonore Dendy (Hermia), Michael Fell (Francis Flute), Alex Gibson (Mustard Seed), Casey Hoekstra (Demetrius), Nike Kadri (First Fairy), Zach Keenan (Lysander), Emily Kitchens (Helena), Tyler Michaels (Philostrate/Puck), Kris L. Nelson (Snug),Christina Acosta Robinson (Hippolyta/Titania), Peter Thompson (Egeus/Tom Snout), Angela Timberman (Robin Starveling), Tony Vierling (Peaseblossom), Andrew Weems (Nick Bottom).