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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Marshall B Garrett
July 13-22, 2012
Milburn Stone Theatre
1 Seahawk Dr.
North East, MD