Friday, February 28, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream at University of Northwestern St. Paul: A Review

A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. I played Hippolyta in high school, and I've seen two different productions of this show at American Player's Theatre (Spring Green, WI). Tonight I saw Midsummer at University of Northwestern St. Paul, and I found the entire show to be delightful. It exceeded the very high bar I set for this play despite my initial uncertainties about the choice of era.

This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was set in the 1960s. It actually worked very well with the story. The proper Athens was characterized by formal black and white wear, the forest had all the color and flow of hippies, and the mechanicals were wonderful in their colorful but simple fare. The only costumes I felt didn't fit were those of Oberon and his gang, which felt much more 80s than 60s. The Pyramis armor costume was genius and my favorite of the show. The sets were lovely without being overly complicated, and the set's many levels and playing spaces worked well throughout the show. I enjoyed the short news broadcast transitions that somehow seamlessly blended technology and Shakespeare, reminding me of similar shots from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.

I was so impressed by the entire cast's comfortableness with the Elizabethan language. It wasn't jarring in the least to have a modern setting with the older language. The actors delivered their lines with ease and nuance. Everyone was so expressive in their body language and facial expressions. Humor can be hard to deliver well, but I felt this cast really played with the humor without pushing it too far over-the-top. I laughed so hard at the mechanicals' play that I was crying. That scene was the crowing jewel of the show and was a great example of how the entire cast was in tune with each other. Even actors in the background contributed beautifully to the scene, with the "off-stage" mechanicals peering out from behind their set to observe. Starveling was even mouthing the words along with her co-actors as Philostrate cringed at their antics.

A few stand-out actors were Lydia Wildes as Helena, Dr. Keith Jones as Philostrate, and Mitch Geiken as Bottom, who stole the show. Oberon and Puck had fun chemistry, Titania's fairies were wonderfully spritely, the lovers were romantic and fun, the royals presided over the goings-on with stateliness, and the mechanicals were endearing and hilarious. I can't say enough how much I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Hats off to a job phenomenally done by the cast and crew!