Is there any better way to experience A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM than outdoors, in the midst of summer, with the action not only on stage, but interspersed throughout the audience and the plein-air setting? To celebrate its 10thanniversary season, Delaware Shakespeare Festival is offering just that, by revisiting its inaugural production of 2003, with a new staging of the Bard’s enchanting comedy on the bucolic grounds of historic Rockwood Mansion. So forget about the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. Bring a blanket, a picnic, and some bug repellent (or they’ll give you a free spritz there), and let director David Stradley’s bewitching vision transport you to a distant dream world of lovers and faeries, in copses filled with magic, laughter, and romance.
In conjunction with its annual summer show, the company’s College Apprentice Program, now in its fifth year, gives local students the opportunity to train for seven weeks in acting, technical production, and stage management, and then to perform in supporting roles alongside the play’s professional cast. This year’s five apprentices (RoShawn Briscoe, Zachary DeBevec, Colleen Marker, Stefanée Martin, and Kathryn Stahl) were fortunate to be paired with some of the finest young actors in Philadelphia theater, helping them to hone their developing talents.
Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, as the frolicsome sprite Puck, was convincingly sprightly and impressively airborne as he bounded across the stage and into the woods, or watched the results of his mischievous, misplaced spells from amongst the audience–all the while clearly delighting in “what fools these mortals be!” Sarah Van Auken, in an equally funny and physical performance as the impassioned Hermia, expertly handled Tim Gallagher’s witty fight choreography with Helena (Jennifer Starr Foley), and was alternately love-struck and lovelorn in engaging scenes with her competing suitors (Sean Bradley’s Demetrius and Jamal Douglas’s Lysander) and father Egeus (also played by the versatile Stanton-Ameisen).
Some of the production’s best moments came in the comedy’s subplot of a play-within-a-play, a device Shakespeare employed to emphasize the human plight of unfulfilled dreams and unattainable aspirations. Among the “Mechanicals”–a group of artisans who work with their hands, but desire to be “Theatricals” and work with their minds–Adam Altman and Johnny Smith excelled as the exuberant Bottom the Weaver and Flute the Bellows-Mender. Starring in an amateur performance of the ancient tragedy PYRAMUS AND THISBE for the ducal court of Theseus and Hippolyta (performed with appropriate gravity by Matt Tallman and Caroline Crocker), not only were Altman and Smith hilarious as the uneducated craftsmen, ill-suited for their higher pursuits, but their good-natured comedic sensibilities also rendered their characters endearing and sympathetic, rather than pathetic. In these skilled actors’ nuanced interpretations, Bottom and Flute each exhibited a passing moment of true comprehension of the classic script, which was all too soon surrendered to their innate, unschooled tendency toward histrionics. Altman and Smith fully succeeded in bringing depth and humanity to Bottom and Flute.
Rounding out the cast was veteran actor James Kassees as Peter Quince the Carpenter, exasperated in his efforts to direct his fellow “Mechanicals” in their over-the-top attempts as thespians. Original music by David Amado and dance choreography by Alex Buckner (at times a bit too earthbound in its execution) added a celebratory tone to the proceedings, and the underlying theme of love was cleverly underscored by Christopher Haig’s XOXO set design and Amanda Wolff’s cross-temporal costumes, which remind us of Shakespeare’s timeless, universal truth that the “course of true love never did run smooth.”
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Stradley
July 13-28, 2012
Delaware Shakespeare Festival
Rockwood Mansion Park
610 Shipley Road
Wilmington, DE 19803
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