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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rick Dildine
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

June 3, 2016

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is back with free Shakespeare in Forest Park, with a production that makes the most of the outdoor location and atmosphere. A Midsummer Night’s Dream as directed by the festival’s Executive Director Rick Dildine, emphasizes music and physicality. The production has a whimsical, earthy tone that’s augmented by a liberal use of music and a top-notch, extremely energetic cast.

As one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s plot is a familiar one to many viewers. It’s somewhat convoluted, and all the intersecting subplots provide the basis for much of the humor. The wedding of Duke Theseus (Paul Cereghino) and Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Jacqueline Thompson) provides the initial setting, and the plot moves forward from there, ranging in setting from the Athenian court to the surrounding forest, eventually involving an amateur acting troupe made up of local craftsmen and the fairies who inhabit the forest, led by King Oberon (Timothy Carter) and Queen Titania (Nancy Anderson), whose relationship is both flirtatious and contentious. Their sparring leads to much mayhem involving the mischievous Puck (Austin G. Jacobs and Ryan A. Jacobs), who carries out Oberon’s wishes as well as indulging in his own humorous whims. These actions lead to mix-ups in the romantic entanglements of four young Athenians as well as weaver Bottom (Stephen Pilkington), who becomes involved with Titania herself in a delightfully ridiculous plot twist.

This production’s emphasis on physical comedy is especially successful in the plot involving the young lovers Hermia (Cassia Thompson) and Lysander (Justin Blanchard), who want to marry despite the wishes of Hermia’s father Egeus (Whit Reichert), who orders her to marry Demetrius (Pete Winfrey), whose affection for Hermia is not returned. It’s Hermia’s childhood friend Helena (Rachel Christopher) who loves Demetrius although he doesn’t care for her, until Puck and a magical plant become involved, mixing up the affections of the men and causing further confusion for the women. All four performers give energetic, hilarious performances, with Christopher’s determined and perpetually rejected Helena being the standout. Kudos also to fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt for some truly marvelous physical moments.

The double-casting of Puck is an interesting choice, combined with director Rick Dildine’s inventive staging to make the character seem to appear and disappear in various places on stage with seemingly miraculous speed. Both actors give charming, impish performances. Other standouts in the cast include Carter’s bombastic Oberon, Anderson’s quirky and assertive Titania, and Pilkington’s delightfully hammy Bottom. It’s a strong, extremely cohesive cast overall, without a weak link, making the most of the comedic elements of the story. The “Pyramus and Thisby” play-within-a-play is riotously funny, as well–with all of the players (Michael Propster as Peter Quince, Jay Stalder as Francis Flute, Jerry Vogel as Robin Starveling, Reginald Pierre as Tom Snout, and Alan Knoll as Snug) contributing to the hilarity. This performance is a real highlight of this production. There’s also an excellent use of music, played on stage by the actors, including original songs by Peter Mark Kendall and some additional folk-style songs that have been added to the production.

The overall whimsical air of the production is augmented by Scott C. Neale’s colorful multi-level set, featuring a series of doors from which the players emerge at various times, particularly serving as a vehicle for Puck’s appearances. The costumes, by Dottie Marshal Englis, represent various styles mostly with an early 20th Century air,  and John Wylie’s lighting adds to the overall fantastical atmosphere of the production.

This staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of style, energy, and a great deal of fun. It’s the second production of this show for the festival, but their first was before I moved to St. Louis. From what I can see here, the second time is definitely a charm.

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being presented by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 26, 2016.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 17, 2014

Jeffrey Omura, Gracyn Mix, Caroline Amos, Andy Rindlisbach Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jeffrey Omura, Gracyn Mix, Caroline Amos, Andy Rindlisbach
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps the most whimsical of Shakespeare’s works, as well as among the more accessible to those less familiar with Shakespeare. I sometimes think of it as “entry level Shakespeare” as a reflection of its accessibility.  It’s frequently performed at all levels–from schools to community theatres to professional companies–all around the world. Strong production values can add a lot of sumptuous detail to this play, and in the latest production at the Rep, the technical details are the forefront in a bright, well-choreographed presentation that emphasizes physical comedy and a lighthearted spirit.

The story here is relatively simple at first, but things quickly get more convoluted. As Athenian Duke Theseus (Alvin Keith) prepares to marry Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Rebecca Watson), nobleman Egeus (Jerry Vogel) is trying to marry off his daughter Hermia (Caroline Amos) to the devoted Demetreus (Andy Rindlisbach), although Hermia doesn’t  love him and would rather marry Lysander (Jeffery Omura). Hermia’s friend Helena (Gracyn Mix) loves Demetrius, but he only has eyes for Hermia.  Meanwhile, a troupe of craftsmen get together to stage a play, led by carpenter Peter Quince (Bob Walton) and weaver Nick Bottom (Michael James Reed). These groups of would-be lovers and would-be actors who wander into the forest and unwittingly get mixed up in the schemes of the woodland fairies who inhabit it, led by King Oberon (also Keith), who has a grudge against Queen Titania (also Watson). Oberon enlists the sprightly Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck (Jim Poulous) to play tricks on Titania and the unsuspecting mortals.  These schemes lead to a host of complications including bizarre transformations, misplaced affections, and much confusion as the many plots intersect and work toward their conclusion.

Although there is some doubling of roles, this is one of the largest casts I’ve seen at the Rep. Led by the strong performances of local talents like Reed, who is delightful in a somewhat rare comic role as Bottom, and Webster University student Amos, who brings a fiercely determined quality to Hermia, this is an excellent ensemble. Other standouts include Mix as the self-conscious Helena, Poulos as the engagingly mischievous Puck, Keith and Watson as the sparring Oberon and Titania, Omura and Rindlisbach as the bewildered suitors Lysander and Demetrius, and Walton as the charmingly dedicated leader of the acting troupe, Quince.  There’s some great work from the rest of the ensemble as well, particularly in executing the clever choreography by Matt Williams.

The atmosphere here is of colorful frivolity, with dynamic staging and hilarious physical comedy sequences. As good as the cast is, however, the most prominent successes of this production are in the sheer brilliance of its technical elements. With a glittery, colorful, almost cartoonish set designed by James Kronzer, and distinctive, 19th Century-influenced costumes by Susan Branch Towne, this production brings Shakespeare whimsy to life with style. And that’s just the visuals.  The sound and music, designed and composed by Barry G. Funderburg, is seamlessly integrated into the production is a wonderfully synchronized way.  When Oberon, Puck, or any of the other “fairy” characters exercises “magic powers”, the accompanying sounds and movements are thoroughly convincing.  It’s a dynamic blend of sight, sound, and movement that adds to the overall energy and entertainment value of this fun production.

I don’t want to overuse the word “whimsical”, although it really is the best word I can think of to describe this play, and especially this particular production.  The Rep’s has brought us A Midsummer Night’s Dream  that is at once organized and flighty, energetic and visually gorgeous. It’s Shakespeare for people who might think they don’t like Shakespeare, as well as for well-established fans of the Bard. Most of all, it’s just plain fun, and that’s wonderful.

Alvin Keith, Jim Poulos Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Alvin Keith, Jim Poulos
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

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