February 21, 2020

Theatricum’s Delightful Dream Is Even Better Shared

 

While I have a high-school English teacher to thank for a perfectly wonderful first exposure to Shakespearean theatre, it turns out that my Shakespeare-avoidant husband was still a virgin to the Bard’s many thrills and charms. That is, until we recently attended Theatricum Botanicum’s current production of its perennial favorite, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

PHOTOS BY IAN FLANDERS

Theatricum’s Delightful <i>Dream</i> Is Even Better Shared

Abby Craden as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, falls in love with Bottom, who has been transformed into an ass by the mischievous Puck.



“Are you going to be able to go,” I asked? I watched his face as he wrested between his options. I could see it in his face as he weighed spending two more hours on our master bath remodel at the end of a long, hot and frustrating day against his decision to accompany his wife on a cultural outing that, for all he knew, would probably bore him to tears and leave his cute little rump sore from sitting on a bench in the woods.

Unsurprising to me, my honey thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “I had no idea that it would be that entertaining and good,” he exclaimed more than once afterwards.

What is not to love in a story rife with fairies, tricksters, enchantments, lovers gone awry, and a troupe of buffoons to provide plenty of over-the-top comic relief?

Theatricum’s Delightful <i>Dream</i> Is Even Better Shared

Michael McFall as Oberon and Elizabeth Tobias as Puck.



While Theatricum’s Shakespearean productions are its strongest suit, this particular work is generally accepted as one of the Bard’s lightest, frothiest comedies. Like the perfect dessert, you find yourself heartily partaking of it down to the last crumb, altogether forgetting that you may have previously had the (fairly common) predisposition to unfairly equate Shakespeare with cod liver oil or something else that one reluctantly ingests with a grimace and a wince, because it is supposedly good for you.

In a way, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is like a three-ring circus, only without the elephants (although a cowardly lion is among the cast, and this production additionally includes a cute little wiener dog).

Dream is perfect for Theatricum’s stage, which is already almost magically nestled in a wooded glen amphitheatre setting. Bring on the Bard, indeed, and this kaleidoscope of colorful characters. Particularly as presented by Theatricum, this play is as much a treat for kids as adults.

Borrowing from early Greek literature and The Knight’s Tale, from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare sets the tale in Athens. Four young lovers try to sort out their woes while their king and the Queen of the Amazons are having their own pre-nuptial issues. If that weren’t enough, domestic troubles are about to bubble over in the nearby forest, the Fairies’ realm.

Let’s start with the humans: Hermia, delightfully played by Meredith Sweeney, is in love with Lysander, a comely young man played by Ira Heinichen as a most worthy sweetie pie of a guy who has, in return, pledged his undying love.

But wait! Hermia’s overbearing parent Egeus (Charlotte Miserlis) has already chosen the noble and equally mad-for-Hermia Demetrius (Matt Ducati) to wed her.

Yuck! She’d rather die—or spend the rest of her days in a nunnery. For disobeying Egeus’s and Demetrius’s wishes, those are her options, according to Theseus, king of the Athenians (the ever-impressive Jeff Wiesen). Too bad that Demetrius does not care a whit for Hermia’s best friend Helena (Willow Geer), who is carrying one red hot torch for the fellow.

As luck will have it, it is through the fairies’ forest that Hermia and Lysander must escape in order to elope. Hermia confides these plans to Helena, who somehow thinks that by spilling the beans to Demetrius, he will be won over by her undying loyalty and love.

Wrong! The four all find themselves mucking about the forest, Demetrius attempting to thwart Hermia and Lysander’s flight, Helena in hot pursuit of “her” man.

While these young lovers wrestle it out in the wilds, Theseus and his formidable love Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Melissa Camilo, also played by Natalie Jones) are making final preparations for their royal nuptials. In this production this couple’s foreplay is literally swordplay, which makes for an entertaining spectacle.

Equally fun to watch is a troupe of village near-idiots. Hopeful thespians, they are intent on what, for them, is clearly an impossible goal: to impeccably stage for Theseus and Hippolyta a classic play to entertain the royals at their marriage reception.

The actors in these roles are very well cast and a joy to watch. Loosely led by Quince (the powerfully earthy Earnestine Phillips), this ridiculous ensemble stars the bombastic Bottom (Thad Geer in a superbly over-the-top performance), supported by the flighty Flute (David Marmor also played by Dylan Vigus), earnest Snout (Kelly Henton), meager Starveling (Jim Thoms) and timid Snug (Constance Lopez).

The players make plans to meet and practice in the forest, completely unaware of the feisty Fair Folk who are beginning to seriously run amok, chief among them, the mischievous hobgoblin Puck (David Pintado is positively captivating in this role, also played by Elizabeth Tobias and Lexi Pearl).

It seems that Puck’s master, Oberon, aka the King of the Fairies (Michael McFall is positively mesmerizing here) has gotten his panties in a knot because his contrary Queen, Titania (very capably played by Abby Craden) refuses to hand over the latest object of her affections, a darling little changeling child (Liam Craden Flanders, Craden’s real-life son), given to her charge by one of her worshippers.

Bent on turning this sweet little fellow into his personal knight or henchman, Oberon will not only not take “no” for an answer, he is enraged enough to contrive what he considers a proper punishment for his disobedient spouse.

Oberon orders Puck to find the enchanted “love-in-idleness” flower, so he can apply the juices from it to the eyelids of his queen as she sleeps. According to his scheme, when she awakens, she will fall completely in love with the first living creature she lays her eyes on, thus altogether forgetting her little page-boy, who will be ripe to snatch away.

When Puck returns with the goods, the king carries out his enchantment and tells Puck to make sure that when the queen awakes that an especially vile forest creature be found and placed ready for her first waking gaze.

Puck, in search for said creature, comes across the motley actors’ crew as they struggle to rehearse. Inspired by these “rude mechanicals” (his words), he conjures the most obnoxious one (guess who) for his purposes.

In the meantime, the fairy king happens to witness a cruel scene in the woods where the callow Demetrius spurns Helena and stalks off. Taking pity on the crying young woman, Oberon points her out to the just returning Puck. He instructs Puck to find the man lurking about the forest, dressed in Athenian clothing, use up the rest of the love juice on him -- and then somehow maneuver Helena to be the first thing he sees when he wakes up the next morning.

Of course, Puck gets it wrong and all heck breaks loose among the four lovers. In the meantime, fairyland becomes a riot. The queen, while under enchantment, remains completely wowed by literally, one lucky ass that wastes no time becoming used to being waited on, hand and hoof, by the entire fairy entourage. Eventually, Oberon sends Puck out to somehow help make things right.

The staging is clever, making full use of the woodsy environment that surrounds the stage. As usual, the acting, solid all around, will not fail to impress. In addition to the rustics, the ensemble cast includes plenty of comely, talented Fair Folk, Athenian and Amazonian court attendants, all who contribute bits of rich detail to the show's appealing tapestry.

All six of the actors in the lovers’ roles (Hermia and Lysander, Demetrius and Helena, Theseus and Hippolyta) deliver stand-out performances. Sweeney, Heinichen, Ducati, (Willow) Geer, Wiesen and Camilo are captivating and brilliantly comedic in their abilities to engage each other with