When considering the new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream now weaving a spell of enchantment and romance at the Folger Theatre, three words come to mind: fun, sexy and magical.
This production kicks off with a Shakespeare-esque prologue delivered by the play’s immortal sprite and mistress of ceremonies Robin Goodfellow or Puck (Erin Weaver) that serves to warm up the audience and lay out their fate if cell phones beep or chirp. This sets an irreverent and playful tone for the entire show that engages without dipping into cliché, a testament to director Aaron Posner, entrusting his talented company of actors with his own inventiveness and clear vision.
Shakespeare’s tale of Athenian lovers, a royal wedding, amateur theatricals and magical meddling seems almost improvisational among this cast, which a credit to their approach to the material. The Bard’s poetry and prose are wholly intact with a minor transposition of a scene or the interpolation of a tune here or there.
Using stylized contemporary looks for the Athenian scenes, the young ladies and gentlemen of Athens become hipster youths who would be at home in a Georgetown Starbucks. The time-shift only serves to illuminate the plight of the mismatched pairs with a modern lens.
Love-struck Lysander (Adam Wesley Brown) – and Demetrius (Desmond Bing) vie for the affections of Hermia (Betsy Mugavero) leaving her friend Helena (Kim Wong) out in the cold. Once the mortal lovers escape to the woods, in true hipster fashion, the fedora-wearing Lysander serenades Hermia with a ukulele. The quartet of 20-somethings are both quirky and appealing and have the light touch with the comedic conflicts that is refreshing.
In another minor adjustment, Shakespeare’s “rude mechanicals” (read skilled laborers) of school girls from Athens High School who are charged with providing entertainment at the Duke’s upcoming wedding to the Amazonian queen. Painfully shy and comically quiet Snug (Megan Graves) is joined by BFFs Snout (Monique Robinson) and Starveling (Justina Adorno), and the more manly Flute (Dani Stoller) as a makeshift drama club. They are under the charge of two teachers, exacting and organized Peter Quince (Richard Ruiz) and flamboyant and dramatic “Nicky” Bottom (Holly Twyford). The gender switches make perfect sense within the fabric of Posner’s new spin, and they are mined for full comic effect, adding to the sense of fun he set out for the production. Moments such as Twyford trying to demonstrate all the roles in their “Pyramus and Thisbe” play, including the Lion, or Megan Graves’s breathless utterances as tiny Snug must be seen to be appreciated fully.
Twyford, as the gender-bent, Bottom, brings her well-known comic chops to this production and makes the grand and theatrical clown role her own. Costumed as a middle-aged drama teacher, complete with long red hair and even longer gestures, the veteran actress plays “Nicky” Bottom as a would-be thespian who has moments of brilliant pathos that shine out from her character’s mangled references and malapropisms.
The fun does not stop with the mixed up mortals. The fairy world is every bit as playful, but let’s add the sex appeal and the magical elements to create the entire success of this mid-winter’s Midsummer. Providing a sensual and enticing take on one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters is Erin Weaver as Puck. Weaver’s bold physicality and catlike movement is coupled with a playful vibe amplified by her good looks and femininity – think fully grown Tinkerbell doing Shakespeare. As Puck, Weaver flirts with just about everyone with whom she comes in contact, from members of the audience to her main man, Oberon, for whom you believe she would do anything.
Speaking of Oberon, another veteran of Folger and DC theatre, Eric Hissom pulls double duty as the political-minded and eager to be married Duke Theseus and the powerful fairy king Oberon. Hissom’s scenes with Weaver point up the relationship between the sexy sprite and her domineering master that is both playful and strangely poignant. Caroline Stefanie Clay makes for a regal Queen Hippolyta and the haughty and proud fairy queen Titania. Clay uses her magnificent contralto voice like a seasoned instrument to deliver some of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines (“My Oberon, What visions have I seen! Methoughts I was enamored of an ass.”). Clay also has a winning chemistry with not only Hissom as her fairy king but with Twyford’s transformed thespian, giggling like a school-girl reborn.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
January 26 – March 13 2016
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $35 – $75
Check for discounts
If magical, sexy and amusing are not apt enough descriptions for this production , I’ll add ‘musical’ to the summation. Along with hipster love songs, this Midsummer is a feast for the ears as well as the eyes. Original music by Andre Pluess is mixed with familiar songs to further the themes of love and playfulness, complete with a catchy Dream finale in which “all is mended.”
In the director’s notes, Posner states, “My goal is to keep it simple and playful and true.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare . Director: Aaron Posner . Featuring Justina Adorno, Elliott Bales, Desmond Bing, Adam Wesley Brown, Caroline Stefanie Clay, Megan Graves, Eric Hissom, Betsy Mugavero, Monique Robinson, Richard Ruiz, Dani Stoller, Holly Twyford, Erin Weaver, Kim Wong . Original Music: Andre Pluess Choreographer: Erika Chong Shuch . Magic Consultant: Nate Dendy . Set design: Paige Hathaway . Lighting design: Jesse Belsky . Costume design: Devon Painter . Sound design: Sarah Pickett . Stage manager: Marne Anderson . Produced by Folger Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker .
I’ve never been so entertained by live theater that then so thoroughly let me down at the end. The musical number at the end was so cheesy and out of place it made my face clinch up just to watch it. I really enjoyed the show until the end and then I hated it.
I thought casting bottoms play as women was very smart. We, as a society, are past the point of thinking that a man dressed as a woman by putting a mop on his head his funny. By making the play within the play about some teenage actors and their over-enthusiastic teachers then we could see the comedy was in their desperation to please the king. Really fun choice!
I saw this production and thought it was one of the worst productions I’ve seen of Shakespeare.
I have no problem with modern or alternative adaptations of Shakespeare. I once saw a wonderful production of Much Ado About Nothing in a Latin setting. I laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the wit of Beatrice. I saw Patrick Stewart do a fascist interpretation of MacBeth in New York, which also had witches doing a rap version of them casting their spells, and enjoyed its dark, spare presentation. I saw a production of Merchant of Venice once which had robotic men in blue suits and sunglasses sporting laptops, and somehow it worked.
But what I cannot tolerate is presentism in the reading of Shakespeare. It is bad enough in history. The issue is to get Shakespeare right, not to get him wrong by putting him in a modern context in a way that gets the characters and their characterization blatantly wrong. The crowd cheered and laughed, but I walked out before it ended in protest.
Bottom, Flute, Starveling, and Snug are country bumpkin commoners and artisans, not sassy schoolgirls who swing their hips to modern techno or whatever they were playing. Flute is a bellows-mender, not a tomboy. But I wouldn’t even care that male characters are played by females. Males played women in Shakespeare’s time. But when you get the whole vibe of the characters blatantly wrong as a result, then yeah, I’m going to walk out. The humor of Bottom et al is slapstick everyman, not teenage girls with attitude. I know the crowd laughed, but they weren’t laughing at Shakespeare. They were laughing at something else, of much lower quality. Just an abomination. And there were other problems with the characters as well, such as presenting Theseus as feckless. It was almost like some other story was presented, with the language of Shakespeare appropriated (or plagiarized) for the purposes of dialogue. The upshot was a badly mangled version of one of Shakespeare’s great comedies.
At least the guy who played Oberon was good. Puck wasn’t bad either.