Review by Doug Iden of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater inaugurated the 2017-18 season in its new digs with a technically spectacular production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even for those of you who think that Shakespeare is an alien being who really talks funny, this is a show worth watching.
The play, which many consider to be one of Shakespeare’s finest, is a farce replete with mistaken identities, magic potions, fantastic creatures (fairies), bawdy language, naive people doing silly things and a significant amount of slapstick. The plot is somewhat convoluted with two different couples in ancient Athens who escape to the forest so that they can pursue their true loves. The “dream” becomes a nightmare for many of the characters. In the forest, they interrupt a bitter dispute between the king and queen of the fairies which spills into the couple’s love lives. To add to the chaos, a troop of itinerant thespians are rehearsing a play which they hope will be selected at the couple’s wedding. Got all that? If not, don’t worry. Just allow the hilarity to wash over you and enjoy the evening.
However, this is not just a play of inanities. This is one of Shakespeare’s most scathing condemnations of people’s foibles and gullibility, especially related to love. The satire can be summed up by the famous line: “What fools these mortals be”.
As usual, the entire cast is superb with a few highlights including Sara Clark as Puck, the trickster who works for the Fairy King Oberon, Matthew Lewis Johnson as Nick Bottom (lead actor in the troop), Caitlin McWethy as Helena (one of the lovers) and the Fairy King and Queen (Giles Davies and Miranda McGee). Clark, as Puck, is charged by Oberon to use magic potions to ridicule the Fairy Queen Titania and the lovers but gets confused and bewitches the wrong people. Puck also is the conscience of the show with a constant commentary on the state of humanity. Johnson (as Nick Bottom) is a hilariously over-the-top egomaniac who thirsts for the lead acting position but is turned into a half-donkey whom Titania becomes smitten with because of one of Puck’s spells. The Bard always has fun with character’s names and Nick Bottom as “the ass” is a prime example. Johnson chews up the scenery with his performance.
McWethy, as Helena, is in love with Demetrius (Kyle Brumley) who is engaged to Hermia (Courtney Lucien) who actually loves Lysander (Crystian Wiltshire). Got that? Anyway, McWethy is both funny and flirtatious as she chases Demetrius throughout the forest.
Davies is deliciously manipulative as Oberon who, like Puck, comments on the action and, convincingly, straightens out the mess in the end. McGee (Titania) is initially enraged with Oberon, enchanted with Nick Bottom, re-enraged with Oberon and, ultimately, reconciled with him.
There also is a bit of non-Shakespearean language such as, after running around the stage, one of the thespians says: “This theater is bigger than the other one”.
But a major star of the show is the technical wizardry and pizzazz on display in the new theater. Scenic Designer Shannon Moore, Costume Designer Amanda McGee, Lighting Designer Justen Locke and Sound and Video Designer Douglas Borntrager pull out all the stops by highlighting their new pyrotechnic toys. The primary scenery is a modern-looking treelike structure around which the actors cavort. This, combined with video projections of the forest and a constantly changing moon, creates an effective magical forest. This is a large cast and costuming it must have been a real challenge with a combination of grotesque fairy outfits, Athenian garb, wedding dresses and outlandish medieval clothes for the acting troop. Some of the fairy costumes are also lit, creating a ghostly effect. The lighting allows the illusion of transformation as the fairies “zap” other characters and create, alternately, bright and eerie views.
A major innovation is the flying apparatus which allows many of the fairies to fly around the stage. Sara Clark must earn 1,000 air miles per performance.
Two scenes exemplify the raucousness and hilarity of the show. One is a ”lover’s quarrel” between the two sets of lovers and the final “play within a play” production by the itinerant journeymen actors to celebrate the final nuptials. Spoiler alert: there is a happy ending to the play and an even happier ending for the audience.
So pack up your fairy dust and magic potions and dare to enter the enchanted forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CSC’s brand new theater continuing through September 30. For ticket information, call 513-381-2273 or visit www.cincyshakes.com. Their next production is Dracula running from October 13 to November 4.