If you like your Shakespeare with a touch of Monty Python and a dash of fairy dust, A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival is definitely your honey bag. Filled to bursting with entrancing (and a couple flat-out hilarious) performances, and performed outdoors at Stan Hywet Hall, this is the essence of summer evening perfection.
Leveraging the setting for all its bucolic glory, performances are preceded by a half-hour greenshow directed by Tess Burgler. It's a charming collection of period songs and a clever musical expiation of the asides to the audience that are so common in OSF productions.
Of course, the material scribbled by Old Will carries the bulk of the load. Studded with glorious flights of poetry, which are interspersed with some of the Bard's finest comic constructions, the play never fails to delight on the page.
But on the virtually unadorned OSF stage, under the playful yet respectful direction of Terry Burgler, the familiar story springs to life with such energy that it almost rocks you back in your seat. And it all happens in an outdoor setting replete with croaking bullfrogs in the nearby pond.
All the usual suspects are in place and romance is in the air as three couples try to sort out their amorous entanglements. Theseus (Scott Shriner), the Duke of Athens, is about to marry Hippolyta (Holly Humes) — no problem there. But old dude Egeus (Richard Figge) wants his daughter to wed Demetrius, a plan that flies in the face of her love for Lysander.
For his part, Demetrius has dropped low-self-esteem Helena like a hot rock, but she follows after him like a masochistic love slave from Fifty Shades of Grey.
Anyhow, they all troop off into the woods to sort out their passions. Meanwhile, a gaggle of rough workmen are preparing a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, for the Duke's wedding. And the leader of the fairy band, King Oberon, is busy squeezing love-at-first-sight flower drops into the eyes of his wife, Queen Titania, and various other mortals to get the upper hand in his schemes.
The love-challenged foursome that hikes off into the sticks is well played by all. Jeremy Jenkins and Joe Fine register both ardor and repulsion as, respectively, Lysander and Demetrius — even as their objects of affection are tweaked by Oberon's ministrations. And Amelia Britton is appealing as Hermia.
But Tess Burgler's Helena steals the show from the other royals, fashioning small and memorable moments out of her character's quicksilver changes of mood. Burgler earns every ounce of the happy ending eventually granted to Helena and the others.
As for the fairies, Bernard Bygott is a powerful Oberon, attended to by the always faithful Puck, played by an almost lighter-than-air Dylan White. And Lara Knox as Titania establishes a commanding presence even as she is medicated into falling in love with an ass.
That ass is actually Bottom, the lead actor (he plays Pyramus) in the workmen's troupe who has been given a donkey's head as a prank by Puck. Ernie González, a five-year veteran of OSF, plays Bottom with his trademark charm. González is one of those rare actors who connects with an audience even without the finest tools. His delivery is always strangely flat yet undeniably comical.
Backing up Bottom are Peter Quince (a vocally expressive Timothy Champion), the putative director of the little play-within-a-play, and Francis Flute. Benjamin Fortin, who plays Flute and, as a result, Thisbe, channels his best cross-dressed Eric Idle as he battles a long platinum wig in his thespian adventure.
Indeed, each of the actors in this production could be called out for individual accolades, including Derrick Winger's laughable Snug the joiner and Henry C. Bishop's curmudgeonly Snout the tinker. But it is their tight ensemble performance, and the joy that emanates from it, that makes this Dream a keeper.