Imaginative MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Milburn Stone

by David Bradford

Caroline Colino as Hermia and Madi Houff as Lysander in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Milburn Stone Theatre.

If you come to the Milburn Stone Theatre production of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM expecting to be immersed in period costumes and sets that faithfully reflect the late 16th century’s vision of ancient Greece, you will be very much disappointed. You will also, likely, be the only one who is.

Director Marshall B Garrett, along with his talented cast and crew, has thrown out the period costumes, and just about every piece of set, to bring us a modern and somewhat minimalist presentation of this timeless comedy.  This becomes apparent the minute you step into the theatre. The stage is black and has what appears to be a maze of white lines covering the middle of it. As it turns out, these lines are used to map out the positions of the only major set pieces used in the show; five, roughly 10 foot high, rolling steel warehouse ladders. These ladders are turned and moved to set scenes and often used by actors to gain focus.  They are a great choice as they allow your imagination to dress them as you see fit for the given scene.

Russell Matthews as Oberon.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is really three storylines woven together.  One storyline revolves around Duke Theseus (Brett Pearson) of Athens and his impending marriage to Hippolyta (Serenity Rowland), Queen of the Amazons.  Both Pearson and Rowland fail to make an impression in the early parts of the show, which starts off slow. However, both acquit themselves quite nicely when featured late in Act II (this production was presented in two acts).

Also in Athens are two pairs of star-crossed lovers. Who is in love with who among those pairs changes quickly and often throughout the show, as do their states of dress.  Adding to the stress is Lord Egeus (Ted Cregger), father of one of the young ladies. Here, too, convention and history are turned on their heads.  In Shakespeare’s time, all of the parts were played by men, even the women.  In this production, all four lovers are played by women. Two of them play women (Caroline Colino and Madi Ferguson) and two of them adopt the dress and mannerisms of men (Madi Houf and Courtney Gardner). All four interact well throughout the show. Ferguson’s first soliloquy is particularly well done.

A second story line has to do with the immortal fairies who surround human life in the world. They have taken up residence in an enchanted forest just outside of Athens.  The King and Queen of the Faires, Oberon (Russell Matthews) and Titania (Melanie Bishop) have been distant from each other as of late. Oberon covets her precious changling Mote (Caitlin White) and hatches a plan to steal Mote away. The king enlists an energetic and mischievous “Puck” of a fairy, Robin Goodfellow (Meghan Hindmarch) in his scheme. About this time, the King has also encountered a few of the Athenian lovers who are wandering in the forest and enlists Robin to help align their stars. It doesn’t go well.  Four other fairies (Amy Murphy, Christy Wyatt, Meg Julien, and Tyler Bristow) round out the cast in this story line.

Meghan Hindmarch as Puck.

Matthews and Bishop handle their roles adequately but both could use just a little more depth to put them over the top.  White deserves a commendation for handling Shakespearean lines so wonderfully at such a young age.

The top honor has to go to Hindmarch though.  Her flowing movements and physical comedy are only out done by her seemingly limitless energy. Even among an ensemble cast of tremendous talent you could not help but to focus on her efforts.

The third storyline in the show revolves around a band of hapless actors, the “Rude Mechanicals” who are hoping to perform their newly crafted version of “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the Duke’s wedding.  The bumbling troupe, under the direction of the Duke’s valet, Peter Quince (Sammi Grant), is dominated by the talent and eagerness of Nick Bottom (Debra McGuire). Other members include: Flute (Ferguson), Snout (Cregger), Starveling (Matthews), and Snug the Joiner (Bristow).

All of the members are incredibly funny and really have a chance to shine when the group finally gets to perform near the end of Act II.  Grant does an incredible job portraying the poor valet who is trying to organize this band of misfits.  Her facial expressions speak volumes and her soliloquy in Act II is quite notable.

The Rude Mechanicals (Tyler Bristow, Russell Matthews, Deb McGuire, Ted Cregger, Sammi Grant, Madi Ferguson).

Runner-up honors, though, go to McGuire.  Her performance of Bottom was an absolute delight!  Her entrance onto the stage (from an audience seat right next to mine as it turns out), gives a swift kick in the butt to the pace of the show, which I mentioned earlier starts a bit slow and flat.  When either Hindmarch or McGuire is on stage, there is no chance of the pace dropping. When they share the stage it is comic gold!

Whether or not you are familiar with the show, I recommend you read the synopsis in the program prior to the start. It will help you better understand the actions and story you are about to see.  I also suggest that you read the Director’s Notes.  Garrett has devised a rather clever concept for the show, particularly as it relates to Nick Bottom.  But I am not sure that idea is fully realized in the execution.  Had I not read about it, I likely would have missed it, and even then, I am not sure it fully translates. It is an interesting concept, nevertheless.

Melanie Bishop as Titania and Deb McGuire as Bottom in Milburn Stone Theatre’s production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.

On a final note, some of the dialogue is actually sung, having been put to original music by J. Andrew Dickenson.  My particular favorite is the lullaby performed by the fairies.

Milburn Stone Theatre has managed to mount another successful production.  Shakespeare can be a challenge, but they certainly rose to the occasion.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM runs July 13, 14, 20 & 21 at 8pm, and July 15 & 22 at 3pm. Tickets are $18.

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Marshall B Garrett
July 13-22, 2012
Milburn Stone Theatre
Cecil College
1 Seahawk Dr.
North East, MD

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C. Douglas July 16, 2012 - 12:09 am

Are you kidding me? Were you bribed to write this review?? I just saw The Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Friday night and that was EXCELLENT! I saw the Milburn Stone production on Saturday and found it a ridiculous and sophomoric interpretation. I don’t want to see some white lines and ladders so I can “imagine” the scenery, or a full donkey head covering Bottom’s entire face leaving me straining to hear his(her) lines, and young girls tearing off each others dresses in a sad attempt to get laughs. That last bit of stuff is just gratuitous pandering. The actors did a good job given the constraints of a poor attempt at nouveau arte but the direction and production of this show left me rolling my eyes at times and praying for it to be over. You’re a Delaware publication, you should review the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s presentation of this classic. It’s not a period piece set in the 16th century vision of ancient Greece either and it is light years in quality and flat out fun beyond the version offered up at Milburn Stone. The tickets at the DSF are less expensive, the presentation MUCH more creative (we can see Bottom’s face and his expressions and HEAR what he’s saying with his clever donkey disguise), the set is simple yet very imaginative, the cast is highly talented, and the venue is outdoors – which adds tons to the atmosphere of this particular play. Don’t take my word for it. Go see it yourself. I’d love to read that review.

Marshall B Garrett July 16, 2012 - 1:16 pm

C. Douglas,

I appreciate all feedback, positive or negative, and am delighted to hear that you attended both productions – I am quite saddened that DSF and MST managed to do the same play this year, and assure you it will not happen again. Theaters must support one another as our artform struggles to survive against other entertainment media. What I mind is your implication that the reviewer was bribed to write his review (which is neither uniformly positive or negative). As a reviewer for STAGE myself, I find this to be an attack on the credibility of this institution, that I have always admired for its integrity.

I hope everyone with an interest takes time to visit both productions and allows themselves the opportunity to enjoy the different interpretations of the story.

Should you wish to discuss particular choices in this production, please find my email address on, and let’s discuss it.

David Stradley July 16, 2012 - 7:15 pm

I directed the Delaware Shakespeare Festival production (and Stage Magazine did send a reviewer – we are waiting for it to be posted!). I also directed MIDSUMMER last summer with students at Walnut Street Theatre’s Camp Walnut. My main motto with them was “If you see five different MIDSUMMERs…” and they would all reply in chorus, “Then you’ll see five different MIDSUMMERs.”

MIDSUMMER is play that thrives on the creativity of its designers and actors. Every production is different and reflects the team that put it together. I love seeing different productions of the play because I always learn something new – how the fairies are presented, how the Mechanicals are presented, how “dark” it gets, etc.

I certainly am glad C. Douglas enjoyed the DSF production. And I certainly wish Milburn Stone Theatre all the best on their production. It certainly is understandable that multiple theatres would present this play during the summer – it’s the perfect play for the season. I’m sorry I won’t get out to see the Milburn Stone production, but hope the cast continues to enjoy performing it and that audiences enjoy seeing it.

I’d concur with Marshall that it would be fun for audiences to see both productions!

C. Douglas July 16, 2012 - 8:47 pm

The credibility of any institution can and should be called into question when it fails to call a spade a spade or in this case, a stinker a stinker. More importantly, why would a Delaware publication bypass a Delaware performance in favor of a clearly inferior Maryland one? Given the failure of one of the companies to coordinate their schedule with the other (DSF announced their intentions back in Dec. 2011. When did MST announce theirs?), this reviewer might have considered doing a contrast and compare piece which I think would have better served the readership. At the very least, both shows should have been reviewed. According to Mr. Stradley, this will be happening but I believe it should have happened already. Bribed was too strong a word and I regret the implication but something most definitely stinks in Denmark.

I would not urge people to see both shows considering the economic times in which we live. I would instead urge them to read unbiased reviews when a credible institution covers “both” shows, then make their own decision and save a few dollars. As a frequent theatre goer and bona fide Shakespeare fanatic, I personally recommend seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the stars, where one doesn’t have to wait for the show to kick into gear, or tolerate “adequate” performances, or suffer through a bizarre interpretation and instead enjoy this classic romantic comedy as I believe the bard intended – well paced, well acted and very well directed. At DSF the conflict between Hermia and Helena is especially funny and the Puck induced chase of Lysander and Demetrius is an actual chase rather than just watching the two of them standing on top of ladders delivering lines. Of course if one is only interested in seeing young girls stripped down to their bras and panties then the MST version is the one to see.

Mr. Garrett, I have no wish to discuss your choices. You made them, live with them. The shows speak for themselves.

Mr. Stradley, kudos to you.

Chris Laning July 16, 2012 - 11:00 pm

Mr. Douglas,

I appreciate your feedback and am glad that you read the reviews on My connection to Stage Magazine is simply that of a reviewer, so I can not speak for the organization. However, Stage Magazine, while currently based in Delaware under the loving care of a truly dedicated woman, has gone through a few iterations over many years. It has, for as long as I can remember, been a coveted and valued publication in the Delaware Valley theatre community. I grew up NJ and Stage Magazine was readily available at local theaters. When the original publisher (who was based in PA I believe) could no longer carry on the duties, she passed it along to another individual who tried to make it an online subscription based service. When that ultimately did not pan out, it eventually returned to its paper version and into the hands of its current managing editor. So, Stage Magazine has always been about theatre in the Delaware Valley (SouthEastern PA, Southern NJ, Northern DE, and Cecil Co, MD.) Also, recently it has expanded its reach deeper into Delaware and MD.

As for your perceived bias in my review I am sorry you feel that way. I actually have zero connection with the Milburn Stone and the only productions I have caught there I have been reviewing. In fact, despite having reviewed a couple of shows he has directed, I have yet to meet Mr. Garrett (something I hope to rectify in the future). I am consistently impressed with the quality of productions they put on (RENT for example was spectacular). However, if you read all the reviews I have written for MST and other theatre companies I think you will see that while I try to approach reviews from a positive point of view (after all we aren’t trying to drive people away from local theatre) I am not afraid to voice my concerns. I just feel constructive criticism to be the better way to go.

I am sure that there a several things in my “biased review” that the Mr. Garrett and some of his cast may find less than glowing and may even disagree with. But then again, my opinion is just that. My opinion. Two people can see the same show. One can think it is the best show they have ever seen and the other could wish those three hours back.

No doubt we disagree on this production. And ultimately, if you find you disagree with all of my reviews, then even that can serve as a guide for you. Just keep supporting local theatre. After all, that is one thing we can all agree on is it not?

C. Douglas July 17, 2012 - 10:06 am

That’s Ms. Douglas.

Fair enough. I have also seen many quality productions at MST over the last 20+ years and hope to see many more in the future. I understand that not every one will be a hit. Lord knows I’ve seen plenty of flops in my time. My problem here is that you have two presentations of the same show opening the same day but only one review. As previously noted, the DSF production was attended by a member of your publication but I have yet to see that coverage – a gross injustice in my opinion.

There will always be unique interpretations of Shakespeare’s works and I applaud the effort that goes into them. Not all will hit the mark. I take exception though when pratfalls and salacious scenarios are employed to prop up a work that needs no propping up in the same way that I take exception to people jazzing up our national anthem when it stands very well on its own. I don’t need vanilla Shakespeare. I’ve seen plenty of that. But I do need true Shakespeare and unfortunately Mr. Garrett’s attempt falls woefully short – in my opinion. Thank you all.

Patricia Bradford
Patricia Bradford July 18, 2012 - 1:30 pm

Ms. Douglas –

I rarely respond to comments on this site because I’m too busy posting information and reviews on the site, but the hostility in your remarks has inspired me to abandon my usual “restraint of tongue and….send” policy. We are not a “Delaware” publication. Our offices simply happen to be located in Delaware. We serve the entire regional theatrical community, including PA, NJ, DE, MD and NY – we, being a team of over 30 VOLUNTEERS, who have no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas aimed at promoting one production over another. Everyone at STAGE serves because they have a true love of theatre and we promote all productions to the best of our ability. Ms. Debra Miller’s review of the DSF production was just posted and I am hopeful that you will lift your veil of negativity long enough to read it. And please remember that a review is simply one person’s opinion of one performance of a production.

Patricia Bradford
Managing Editor
STAGE Magazine

Marshall B Garrett July 17, 2012 - 10:55 am

STAGE Magazine employs many volunteer reviewers, and we all write at our own pace. Our Managing Editor is certainly on us to turn the review around within 24 hours, and we do get reminders if we fail in that task. However, that is almost certainly the case with the DSF review – no malicious intent by STAGE or any of our personnel. Chris is a particularly punctual writer (very appreciated, sir!).


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