Theater review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Orlando Shakes

By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater

The young aristocrats in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s new Midsummer Night’s Dream loll about in what looks like a hipster’s fantasy of a Grecian villa – all sun dapples and decadence. An underling sings part of Pink Floyd’s “Money,” and even the audience might be forgiven for never wanting to venture out into the woods, where life is a little more unruly and you just might need bug spray and galoshes.

Director David Lee’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes those differences to heart. For the city folk, the course of true love never does run smooth. But their angst-ridden characters and their citified ways stand in such contrast to the airy fairies of the forest – and the city folk are so much funnier – that you may find yourself wishing everybody would just stay in town.

That’s not exactly the point of Midsummer, where the fantastical life of the forest first complicates and then irons out all the misbegotten love affairs and transforms just about everybody into the people they ought to be. Still, this production looks so drop-dead gorgeous – with Bob Phillips’ luxe villa and glittering woods, Eric T. Haugen’s moon-drenched lighting and Denise Warner’s chichi costumes – that any deeper meanings of Shakespeare’s comedy may not matter to you one whit.

One of Shakespeare’s most often-produced plays, Midsummer follows three separate story lines. In one, two sets of frustrated lovers – Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius – take off into the wild after the Duke of Athens tells Hermia that she must marry Demetrius, become a nun or die. In the woods, Oberon, the king of the fairies, orders Puck, his attendant, to play tricks on fairy queen Titania because she won’t give him a little boy he wants to raise. Meanwhile, a group of working-men rehearse a play they’re going to put on as an entertainment for the Duke of Athens’ upcoming wedding to Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons.

Got that? Under Lee’s direction, the urban part of it is utterly clear, thanks to the beautiful way he and his actors differentiate the various characters and the great humor they bring to their parts. Michele Vazquez, in a short flared skirt and wielding an oversize pocketbook, makes a spitfire of a Hermia, so used to being in control that when the Duke announces her sentence all she can exclaim is a surprised “Oh!” Courtney Moors makes a Helena who’s apparently used to being passed over but has had it happen one too many times. Avery Clark and Walter Kmiec are wonderfully physical as the women’s loves: Clark becomes quite a sniveler as he follows a new beloved fruitlessly through the forest, and Kmiec writhes marvelously after Helena fells him with a couple of easy swings.

The mechanicals, too, are a riot, especially Anne Hering as their leader, here called Patty Quince and sporting a wild Noo Yawk accent, a Sarah Palin beehive and a constant wad of chewing gum; and Michael Daly as Nick Bottom, the hyper-charged tailor who wants to perform every part in their little play-within-a-play. Daly may have a placid face, but he starts out big and gets bigger: By the time he’s performing his brokenhearted death scene, he’s pretending to pull out his own heart, dice it, cook it up and gulp it down.

Yet all of that comedy fades away with the fairies, who look suitably splendiferous but don’t get their story across. Lee has them chattering and cavorting, but when they speak they’re hard to figure out: Even Wynn Harmon, as Oberon, and Sarah Ireland, as Titania, seem somehow lost in fog. (Harmon and Ireland are much better in the smaller roles of the Duke and Hippolyta.)

And Claro Austria makes a fey, grinning Puck, one who seems immensely pleased with himself but whose charms are somehow elusive.

The result is that, during the fairy sequences, you’re likely to lose all sense of what Midsummer – a play that should be transformed by its fairies – is all about.

And you may find yourself tuning out the fairies so that you can concentrate on the glorious costumes (all black and white for the aristocrats until they start sprouting bits of passionate purple) or on a slow-motion pillow fight in which the young lovers fall like rag dolls across the stage. Maybe the fantasy in this Midsummer is less compelling than the reality – or at least Shakespeare’s comical version of reality, which is often a whole lot more compelling than ours. When real life is as elegant as it is in this production, you may discover yourself choosing it every time.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

  • What: Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of William Shakespeare comedy.
  • Where: Margeson Theater, Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando.
  • When: 8 p.m. Jan 29, Feb. 4, 5 and 18 and March 4 and 19; 7 p.m. Feb. 3, 16, 24 and 26 and March 2, 10 and 17; 2 p.m. Jan. 30, Feb. 16 and 20 and March 2, 6 and 13.
  • Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, including intermission.
  • Cost: $20-$38 most performances, $15 Wednesday matinees, $20 for those under 30 Feb. 18.
  • Call: 407-447-1700 Ext. 1.
  • Online: orlandoshakes.org.

Photos: Top left: Avery Clark and Michelle Vazquez. Middle right: Christopher Kiley, Matt Wenge, Michael Daly, Mason Criswell, Trent Fucci and Anne Hering. Bottom right: Michele Vazquez, Avery Clark and Walter Kmiec. Photos by Tony Firriolo/Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

Copyright 2011 by Elizabeth Maupin.

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