The Staging: Stark in its simplicity, the staging is a great example of how Shakespeare can often be best served by simply allowing the words and the story itself to tell the tale, rather than trying to add too much “world” around it with costuming, set or props. Sure, there were some costumes, but only careful touches. The set’s essentially just a few boxes rearranged from scene to scene as needed. And that was exactly the right choice for this version of the show. Smart to use the minimal decisions, here.
The Mechanicals: The group of fellows (comprised here of two women as well as men) who surround Bottom and are determined to put on a play for the Duke were both well-cast and enjoyable to watch. Milton David as Snug (and the Lion) kills in his interpretation both before and during the show and Kevin Story’s Flute nails the uncomfortable nature of having to play the feminine lead of Thisbe, while the rest of Bottom’s pals are equally worth their weight.
The Lovers: Great characterizations abound amongst the four lovers, with the women shining brightest here.
There’s fantastic fun in seeing Helena played as a nerdy book-worm by Haley Rade. Her strange combination of innocence and budding worldly knowledge seem to match that of modern teenage women and it suited Helena’s lines beautifully in ways I wouldn’t have originally imagined. Great, great choice.
Arielle Fodor’s Hermia reaches such an incredible physicality when she gets angry that I honestly thought she was going to explode on the stage like an old-style Looney Toons cartoon (and that’s a tremendous compliment—she was an absolute JOY to watch in her anger.) It was a sublime manifestation of a young woman’s loss of control when confronted with being hurt in love—and it was sheer brilliance as only one man’s hold on her ankle seemed to be keeping her from leaping (literally) off the stage for good.
But the men aren’t to be ignored. Mathew San Jose’s Lysander is effectively manly, just egotistic enough to believe his own nonsense and just cocky enough to assume he could pull off the stupidity of his plan. And Sean Benedict’s Demetrius grows stronger each time he enters the stage as his character gains more and more courage, strength and willingness to fight in ANY way he has to do (which leads to one of the best sight gags in the show.)
Puck: Daniel Sugimoto’s Puck is an interesting take on the character. Part punk rocker, part forgetful stoner, part imp, part fool. Willing to let the boss take the fall for the mistakes, pretty much taking no credit or shame for anything. His version of Puck felt to me like he was somewhat disconnected from ANY emotional tie to any of the events going on around him. It’s not a version of Puck I’ve ever seen before—and that made it one I was really interested in watching, one that I kept trying to understand more carefully. Ultimately, I really, truly enjoyed this version of Puck immensely.
What I didn't like
Less clear to me were some of the choices made regarding the faeries themselves. They remained more out of time—more traditionally “faerie”, which strangely made them seem somewhat OUT of place in this particular production for me. Except for Puck—who felt more like he belonged in the world of the humans than he did in the world of the faeries. Which made him more clear to me…and then made me more confused about the faeries again, in turn. Perhaps he’s supposed to bridge the two groups—if so, that wasn’t entirely clear to me in the preview performance.
My overall impression
Shakespeare plays have a tremendous weight to them that can drag casts down or lift them up with equal possibility. This production takes one of the most commonly seen and performed Shakespeare comedies and brings it renewed humor and energy and makes it a good family-friendly Fringe comedy that anyone can enjoy.
Most theater going audiences have seen at least one Shakespeare play in their lives. Many of us have seen dozens. Many of us have been IN multiple Shakespeare plays ourselves. So each time a company attempts to do one of the Bard’s plays, they have to decide how to approach it. According to the director notes, the Merely Players Shakespeare Co.‘s inaugural production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream chose to “put language above all else” and “to put new meaning to words”, clearly trying to keep it fresh and relevant in today’s world.
And for the most part, I think they’ve succeeded. This was a very watchable and enjoyable show. The tale of lovers lost in the woods, their loves twisted and confused by the spells of the fae, was quite amusing to watch. The love spats, the twisted accusations, the love-sparked fury—it all worked well AND felt current-time appropriate, thanks to modern approaches to characterizations and costuming and mannerisms. All very well done.
Overall, this show is a strong opening production for the company. They should be very proud of their work and I hope that many people come to see it, because the work of many of the talented people in this cast truly deserves to be seen.