It seems almost cruel to encounter the joys of Shakespeare’s fantastical comedy set in mid-summer as we contemplate the approaching winter (nuclear or otherwise). But thanks to this thoroughly delightful production at Great Lakes Theater directed by Joseph Hanreddy, there is no downside to the experience.
This three-ring circus has it all: Romance, mystical spells leading to misdirected amour, and oafish attempts by workmen at mounting a play within the play. And the GLT company has never been better in weaving together this modern-dress version, even in the face of a scenic design that is both static and busy, and not all that entrancing.
As most know, the kerfuffles of the heart involving the young folks Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius are distorted by the intervention of Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies. and a band of “rude mechanicals” (that’s Will-speak for blue collar folks). As a result, much gaiety ensues as the magic eye drops the fairies possess lead various characters to fall madly in love with people they wouldn’t normally pursue, including one wearing a donkey head.
Summarizing the twists and turns in a Shakespeare play is always a fool’s errand—Wait, who did you say is in love with whom again? Suffice to say that the mixups in this production are most pleasurable thanks to a number of stellar performances in the outstanding ensemble.
Keri Rene Fuller as tall Helena and Michelle Pauker as not-so-tall Hermia create sparks with Jon Loya as Demetrius and Cory Mach as Lysander. In the featured role of Bottom, the weaver and rabid wannabe actor, David Anthony Smith is consistently amusing. And Tom Ford crafts a lovely, comical take on Peter Quince without coloring outside the lines.
Also excellent are M.A. Taylor as an edgy Puck, Jodi Dominick as a frequently pissed-off Robin Starveling, and Nick Steen and Jillian Kates who are double cast as both the Duke and Queen of Athens and the leaders of the Fairies.
The only odd element of the whole show is the scenic design by Scott Bradley that, among other problems, is a conceptual mismatch with the modern dress of the characters. In an attempt to combine the two worlds of the play—the formal court of Athens and the woods where the fairies romp—the set is filled with stuff, including a tall leaning bookcase, that manages to convey neither. And since the set never changes, except for a couple of lighted globes that drop down a couple feet, the actors are left to create all the magic themselves.
Fortunately for the audience, these actors are quite up to the task. That makes this Midsummer Night’s Dream, to quote the ass’s head in the White House, our own little calm before the storm.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Through November 5 at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14 St., 216-241-6000, greatlakestheater.org