A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Croy and Douglas Seldin. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Kate Kenney, Rory Hammond, Madeleine Rose Maggio; photo: Olivia Winslow
Luke Haskell and Caroline Calkins; photo: Olivia Winslow
For new readers of my work let me just say that I head each of my reviews with a quote from the play. You may not recognize the one above, but I assure you it is from the current production of Shakespeare's classic romantic fantasy, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a play with more famous quotes than just about any other document ever created. That current production is outdoors in the Dell at Edith Wharton's The Mount in Lenox, MA, an edition of the play presented by Shakespeare & Company which is located just a mile up the road.
Many moons ago, and for many years indeed this theater company was in residence at The Mount and produced their iconic version of this play outdoors there. I would call this a celebration indeed to have Shakespeare's fairy comedy in the woods again with such a talented young cast under the direction of such talented men.
Now, "yay, Cindy." In the play the access to moonlight is discussed and when no one has a calendar assistance from the audience is sought. A woman's voice rings out and assures the actors that they will have the moonlight when they require it and their joint response is the now famous quote. Cindy is their stage manager, Cindy Wade. Cindy, welcome to the stage.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a play about lovers, young lovers, older lovers, eternal lovers. Lysander (a delightful Luke Haskell) loves Hermia (Caroline Calkins in a perfect performance) who loves him back. She is also loved by the tall and handsome Demetrius (played by the tall and handsome Thomas Reynolds) who is, in return, scorned by her but loved by Helena (the excellent Madeleine Rose Maggio - who doubles as a faerie named Cobweb). Theseus, Duke of Athens loves, and plans to marry, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. (She is played by Caitlin Kraft with gusto and flair, and he is handsomely portrayed by Devante Owens.) They are first seen sparring, then wooing.
Oberon, King of Faerieland (a handsome and dynamic David Bertoldi) loves Titania, Queen of Faerieland (sweetly but fiery in the playing by Kate Kenney) but they have quarreled over the legal possession of a boiy-child. Pyramus, a classic figure played by Nick Bottom, a weaver (played by the excellent Tim Dowd) loves Thisby, also played by a man, Francis Flute, the bellows-mender (played with stature by Leon Schwendener). All this love is not nearly as neat as the romantic entanglements of Shakespeare's previous love story, "Romeo and Juliet" but it is a lot more fun when all is said and done.
The fairy story that wraps the play up in its own particular glow is sweetly if sparsely presented. Removing so many possible "chorus" roles allows this production to hone in on the three most important folks, King Oberon, Queen Titania and Robin Goodfellow, or Puck (played by Thomas Randle as horned as his master is horny). All three faeries excel in their roles. Kenney is lovely and graceful and almost seems to fly as she and her lord dance along the top of the natural hill the forms the backdrop for the show. Sadly the production buries her for major scenes in a fairy-dell to the far side of the space making it hard to see or hear her through most of the last half of the play.
Randle's Puck is mischevious, active and delectably perky as he makes his mistakes, regrets them a bit and corrects them. He does, quite possibly, elevate now and than even without his tree ladder. His is a magical performance. Bertoldi makes a most romantic figure as he strides among the trees, the audience and the crowd of mortal lovers that surround him. He has a voice as handsome as his body and face. With never a moment of human mewling he draws attention through his decisive personality.
He shares some of this quality with Devante Owens whose Theseus is equally commanding though a trifle petty as Shakespeare draws him. Owens plays the good intent of the King and leaves out the possible imposed threats even as they are stated.
His Queen-to-be is played with a definitive strength by Caitlin Kraft who also brings to the role of Snug, a Joiner, who plays the Lion in the play-with-the-play, a timidity that is luscious to witness. She makes you want to reach out, pet her and reassure her that all will be well - and when it turns out to be so, she incidentally begs our sense of pride in the accomplishment.
David Bertoldi; photo: Olivia Winslow
The Mechanicals; photo: Olivia Winslow
The company of players who perform for the wedding party also include Tom Snout, a tinker, played by Mairead Koehler, Robin Starveling, a tailor, played by Dara Silverman and the aforementioned Schwendener and Dowd. Leading them all is Peter Quince, a working-man and playwright played with alacrity by Rory Hammond. These characters always delight but in the Dell production they do more than merely amuse. Here, they tickle and entrance us as much as the faeries do. Their performances are wonderfully subtle and broad-stroked at the same time. They may represent through the play they perform the personification of romantic tragedy but they themselves could not be tragic even if one of their party should be carried off and transformed into an ass, hee-haw and all.
The directors have not been shy about physical comedy or the humor in the spoken word but have worked their company into the splendors of this piece with the wide, long throttle of a trombone. They have been assisted in this by the sound design work of Jonathan Croy who can use a musical note or theme with equal inelegance. Govane Lohbauer's costumes fulfill every director's, actor's and playwright's wishes in this show. Luke Reed has delivered a perfectly ordered Burgomask dance.
After all these years I would love to find fault with this production but everything delivered makes that impossible. This is a dream devoutly to be wished for and over hill, over dale, I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, and, honey, it blows for thee. This is a one hour forty-five minute outdoor experience that will go a long way before anyone can beat it for theatricality, intimacy and pure enjoyment.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, a Shakespeare&Company production in the Dell at Edith Wharton's The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA plays through August 19. For information and tickets contact the box office at 413-637-3353 or go on line at shakespeare.org.