Ah, the quintessential play set in the magical woods… and performed there as well. Park in the town lot, walk up the hill (or if you or your theatre date wore heels, take the complementary shuttle van) to the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute where Chesapeake Shakespeare Company – an institution itself – has performed every summer since their debut. Grab a hot dog or a picnic dinner, rest your feet on your cooler, crack open a beverage and get your Bard on.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream might just be Shakespeare’s best known comedy, or certainly his most performed comedy, and if you’re reading this website do I need to even bother recounting the plot? There’s a royal wedding, a troupe of amateur actors rehearsing a play for said wedding, a lover’s spat between the king and queen of the fairies, and a pair of lovers in the woods. Magic happens, it goes wrong, someone turns into a donkey, and hilarity ensues. Love wins, their play is a trainwreck, and Puck asks the audience for forgiveness.
The star role in this play – apart of course from Puck – is Bottom, the stage-hungry weaver who if left to his own devices would play *all* the characters in the Pyramus and Thisbe playlet himself, is subjected to Oberon and Puck’s machinations, gets made an ass out of, then makes an ass of himself onstage. Bottom requires an actor who can attack this role with as much abandon as Bottom attacks the role of Pyramus, and CSC company man José Guzman is more than up to the task with a tour-de-force comic performance that leaves the audience howling. His fellow Rude Mechanicals likewise crank up the silly to eleven.
Imani Turner, a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts, turns in a most impressive performance as Puck. He’s energetic, charismatic, and at least from what I saw of him, appears to have a bright future as a performer. Michael Toperzer and Elana Michelle are passable as Theseus and Hippolyta but sparkle admirably as the feisty fairy monarchs Oberon and Titania.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
closes July 29, 2018
Details and tickets
Nina Marti, Rafael Sebastian, Nick Fruit and Kate Forton are the quartet of ingenues; the girls’ reactions to their buffoonish boys’ Puck-induced wandering eyes are palpable; Marti’s Hermia seethes with not-unjust paranoia and righteous anger, Forton’s Helena is a picture of insecure defensiveness. It’s arguable that the four play things a bit more chaste than the text indicates, but then again they’re playing to a PG crowd. (The most naughty part of the play is where they put the hole in Pyramus & Thisbe’s wall.)
CSC is not out to reinterpret or radically re-envision Shakespeare, nor is director Gerrad Taylor with Midsummer. That doesn’t seem to be what their audience wants, nor what their resources are geared toward. The costumes are traditional, togas and gowns and such. It’s a safe, tasteful production that is charming, funny, even cuddly; suitable for all ages, with the trappings of suburban outdoor Shakespeare: musical interludes, an intermission wine raffle, toddlers in the aisle, homemade concessions and the like. It has a lively spirit to it that elevates it above, say, the ‘museum piece’ Midsummer from episode one of Slings and Arrows. It doesn’t defy convention, indeed is rooted comfortably in it, and within these boundaries they create a fun night out in Ellicott City, which after last month’s deluge needs all the good vibes it can get. As do we all.
Note: there are port-a-potties. Plan accordingly.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Gerrad Alex Taylor. Cast: Collin Connor, Sebastian Durfee, Kate Forton, Nick Fruit, Abigail Funk, José Guzman, Owen Halstad, Brendan Edward Kennedy, Ceili Lang, Nina Marti, Elana Michelle, Molly Moores, Tim Neil, Rafael Sebastian, Sydney Thomas, Michael Toperzer, Imani Turner, Christine Watt, Alec Yamartino. Production Manager: Kyle Rudgers. Set & Lighting Design: Daniel O’Brien. Assistant Director: Jeff Miller. Costume Design: Heather Jackson. Sound Design: Tim Neil. Props Design: Mollie Singer. Choreography: Shubhangi Kuchibhotla. Music Director: Grace Srinivasan. Production Stage Manager: Lauren Engler. A production of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Review by John Geoffrion.
[Small World Alert: I have worked with Jenny Leopold, former CSC board member in DC area theatres and productions with my former Boston theatre company]