“Midsummer” at Cincy Shakes Gives You More To Love About Shakespeare

Review by Liz Eichler of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its Otto M. Budig Theater this week with Shakespeare’s” A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a feast for the eyes and laughs for the belly. CSC doesn’t hold back as they pile on the effects, joyfully testing out every benefit of their new space and equipment like a sugared up kids at a birthday party.  There’s something for everyone: lovers, sword fighting, scatological humor, dancing, singing, rock music, light-up costumes, puppets, flying, projections, but wait, there’s more! That “more” is some amazing actors who breathe so much life into Shakespeare’s script that all this spectacle could be superfluous.

In case it’s your first time, “Midsummer” is three interrelated stories occurring during one magical Midsummer’s Eve, a night of revelry, where faeries come out to play.  Duke Theseus is planning to celebrate his wedding to Hippolyta, with a feast complete with home-spun entertainment for the reception. Two young noble couples run into the woods, one on their way to get married, the others to thwart them. Faeries (who have come to celebrate the Duke’s wedding) interfere with both the couples, each other, and the home-spun locals rehearsing a play for the wedding entertainment. Comedy, and weddings, ensue.

This is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, and I have enjoyed watching or creating multiple productions. How could this be different?  Well, Director Brian Isaac Phillips says “wait, there’s more!” More ways to interpret, stage, costume, and love about this production.

First, there’s Caitlin McWethy as Helena. Her humorous self-effacing ways make the character amazingly relatable. Courtney Lucien is a mighty foil for her, as the diminutive Hermia. Who is sweet in the first act, (but wait, there’s more!) she shows you that no one should get between her and her love, Lysander (well played by Crystian Wiltshire). Rounding out the lovers is Demetrius (Kyle Brumley) who goes toe to toe with Lysander. Rounding out the “nobles” are Darnell Pierre Benjamin (Duke Theseus), Maggie Lou Rader (Hippolyta), Barry Mulholland (Egeus), and (YAAASS!) Philostrate (Sylvester Little, Jr.).

Next, the homespun “mechanicals” will have you rolling in the aisles.  Quince, the earnest writer and director of the entertainment is brought to life by Kelly Mengelkoch, who commits 110% to bring this character out of the shadows. Matthew Lewis Johnson chews the scenery, “out Herod-ing Herod” as Bottom. He is joined by the ridiculous antics of Billy Chace, Paul Riopelle, and Jeremy Dubin, as Snug, Snout, and Flute. Of course, Robin Starveling (Justin McCombs) has a darling and obedient dog.

Finally, faeries fill the sky and theatre, including Cary Davenport, Tess Talbot, Candice Handy, and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II. Sara Clark is a plucky, nimble, and sassy Puck. And wait, there’s more: Giles Davies and Miranda McGee play power games as Oberon and Titania, although both seem stymied by their costuming.

The scenery (Shannon Moore), lighting (Justin N. Locke), and sound, video, and glorious moon (Douglas J. Borntrager) look lovely.  The 70’s style of costuming is hit and miss, but when they are “right on,” they will stir memories of Match Game, David Bowie concerts, epic movies, and Hee-Haw.  The audience is so much closer in this wonderful thrust stage, so the little things (wigs, zippers, make-up, etc.) are much more noticeable.

The performers engage you, running on stage and off, “through bush, through brier,“ throughout the new space, including a balcony. The spectacle captures your attention, but with the strength of these performers, it would be a great show, even if they were all in their skivvies (but yes! there’s more!) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays through September 30.  Tickets atwww.cincyshakes.com or call 513-381-2273, and enjoy more of this lovely space.

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