Shakespeare 70 at Kelsey Theatre: An Entertaining MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

by Lesley Grigg

Young lovers Lysander (Nigel Rogers) and Hermia (Heather Duncan) plan their escape from Athens while Helena (Maddie Patrick) looks wistfully on. (Photo credit: Rich Kowalski)

Summertime, and the dreaming is whimsy. Although, technically, it is not yet midsummer, even though it feels like it, we can still dream. The whimsical feel is established as a few fairies partake in a pre-show frolic through the audience before setting the simple set pieces, including creative green balloon trees with twine trunks tied to grassy moss. With names like Peaseblossom (Gina Yanuzzi), Cobweb (Bess Myers), Moth (Gini Rose Graydon) and Mustardseed (Reagan Frankhouser), prancing around in long, flowing, gauzy robes, these fairies had no trouble bringing the whimsy.

This MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM begins in the court of Theseus, Duke of Athens (Jim Bloss) who is joined by his betrothed, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Hannah Adamy). The two are dressed in traditional Greek style, spouting Shakespeare to the best of their ability. Bloss gives off an authoritative air, but it’s Adamy’s resonant voice and effortless Shakespearean delivery that makes you think twice about who really wears the toga in that relationship.

The two listen as Egeus (John Anastasio) speaks of his daughter Hermia’s (Heather Duncan) refusal to marry Demetrius (Andrew Timmes), the man Egeus has chosen for her. Alas, the young lady has fallen for another named Lysander (Nigel Rogers), which is pure music to Helena’s (Maddie Patrick) ears, since she is smitten with Demetrius, although the feelings are not exactly mutual. Thus, the tale of this love parallelogram begins.

While at first it may be difficult keeping track of who is who and who loves who, all while trying to translate the language of Shakespeare, one thing that comes across clearly is this is not the first Shakespearean rodeo for these actors. The complicated words roll off their tongues as if they all speak like this every day. Whether it’s Egeus’ fatherly reprimanding or Hermia’s love-sick laments, much can be determined through Anastasio and Duncan’s tone and actions, but the words still come naturally. Even without words, Rogers was able to show the audience what Lysander really felt about the situation. His reactions spoke for him until his first line, and even then, his actions and facial expressions allowed us to share in his true feelings.

It’s no wonder fair Helena had strong feelings for Demetrius, he could have many ladies swooning over his robust Prince Charming-like quality voice (which also reminded me of Dudley Do-Right at times). The way Timmes carried himself on stage also complemented his character’s prestige. Patrick brings more personality to Helena than Shakespeare may have dreamed of. She cranked up a small voice into a dramatic character full of spirit and emotions, and she wasn’t afraid to show any of them.

“Stage Manager” Peter Quince (Michael Krahel) sweet talks Nick Bottom (Dale Simon) into accepting his next role while fellow actors Snout, Starveling and Flute (l ro r: Vegas Lancaster, Dan Loverro, and Tom Orr) wait. (Photo credit: Rich Kowalski)

As the foursome conspired to make their relationships work, we met a new set of dreamers. This group makes up the cast of a play, within a play. While actors playing actors may seem like cheating, this group of thespians chose to rehearse in a magical forest which makes this story a little more interesting. At first it seems Peter Quince (Michael Krahel) is supposed to be the brains behind the scenes, as he starts to cast parts, distribute scripts, and direct the group. Soon we discover Nick Bottom (Dale Simon), who is chosen to play the lead, is that quintessential actor who wants to rewrite the script, direct, and play all the roles. There’s one in every cast, and from Simon’s natural and commanding stage presence, it seems like he’s been a part of quite a few casts. The rest of the players include Francis Flute (Tom Orr) as the lovely Thisby. His high voice and dedication to playing the lead female role adds both comedy and deep respect for taking his character seriously. Tom Snout (Vegas Lancaster) and Robin Starveling (Dan Loverro) prove there really are no small parts as they take on the role of an accommodating Wall and less-than-effervescent Moonshine, respectively. Last, but certainly not least, Snug (John Eldis) ensures the ladies are not overcome with fear by his portrayal of a “savage” Lion.

Fairy King Oberon (C Jameson Bradley) enchants the eyes of sleeping Fairy Queen Titania (Janet Quartarone). (Photo credit: Rich Kowalski)

Not only did we get to see this play within a play rehearsed in Act 1, we were also treated to a quick run through of the whole story before seeing it played out in full in Act 2. While Shakespeare may have written it this way, the three minute teaser version would have sufficed, especially as Act 2 started to drag. However, Philomene, Mistress of the Revels (Jess Noll), did warn us this spectacle would not be the greatest. Someone should have listened. Although, I did enjoy the bit with Starveling’s vocal Dog (Tess Krahel), and the scene did have its laugh-out-loud moments, but even the audience of fairies was getting bored as they looked on, expressionless, at their own show within their show.

Speaking of fairies, this whimsical story of dreaming on a summer’s night would not be complete without magical forest creatures. Oberon, the King of the Fairies (C. Jameson Bradley) and Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Janet Quartarone) quarreled about something in Act 1. I may have caught the cause if I wasn’t distracted by Puck (Patrick Albinesius) flirting with the younger fairies. While some action on stage is needed to hold attention, it’s best if it’s geared toward those who are doing the talking. There were also voices coming from somewhere in the theater. While it could have been the magical forest playing tricks, I know I wasn’t the only one to hear female voices floating into the auditorium from what could have been picked up from microphones or radios, but from the looks of other audience members trying to find the source, I wasn’t the only one distracted. This is a shame, since it seemed as though Quartarone and Bradley were really feeling their roles. Their elaborate costumes just weren’t enough to outshine certain distractions.

Puck (Pat Albanesius) & Peaseblossom (Gina Yanuzzi) trade quips in the Fairy Kingdom. (Photo credit: Rich Kowalski)

Overall, this was an entertaining summer evening spent at the theater, watching dreams of love come true.

by William Shakespeare
Directed by John F. Erath
June 29-July 8, 2012
Shakespeare 70
Kelsey Theatre at Mercer
Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windsor, NJ 08550

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