Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review of Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was by William Shakespeare and it was adapted and directed by Jess McLeod. It is about Hermia (Faith Servant) and Lysander (Christoper Sheard) who are forbidden from being together because Hermia is engaged by her father Egeus (Jarrett King) to Demetrius (Andrew L. Saenz). And Helena (Ally Carey), who has been friends with Hermia since they were very young, is in love with Demetrius, but Demetrius wants to be with Hermia. The four lovers go off into the woods where they encounter some mischievous fairies, Puck (Travis Turner) and Oberon (Sean Fortunato), who are trying to get a changeling boy from Titania (Christiana Clark), who is Oberon's queen. Also in the woods, the Mechanicals--Peter Quince (King), Bottom (Adam Wesley Brown), Snout (Richard Costes), Snug (Hannah Starr), Starveling (Drew Shirley), and Flute (Lane Anthony Flores)--are rehearsing to put on a play for Theseus (Fortunato) and Hippolyta (Clark) on their wedding day. This is a play about love, magic, and worlds coexisting and occasionally coming together. I think that this is a really good introduction to Shakespeare for kids and everyone in the audience seemed to be really into it.

I think the set (by Lauren Nigri) was really beautiful. It looked like a Romantic period painting. It had this colorful background and there were ruins and big rocks. The lover's costumes (by Izumi Inaba) looked like something out of a Jane Austen novel. I think they set it in the Romantic period because they were trying to showcase, especially with the fairies being trees, the artificial naturalistic beauty of the Romantic view. The fairies are not really trees, they are pretending to be. They are tricking everyone around them into thinking something is nature that is not. Like someone building an arch and then ruining it so that it looks like nature has taken over even though it hasn't. The lovers are Romantic romantics because they are all obsessed with love and matching up but also with finding beauty in the hardest situations. Like when Lysander and Hermia have to sleep on a bank and they are so enthusiastic about everything that is happening, even though they have to sleep on the "dank and dirty ground."

The scenes with the Mechanicals weren't as wacky in this production as they usually are. Usually they take themselves so seriously, especially Bottom, which is where a lot the humor comes from. But this version of Bottom didn't seem super stoked for the show and he seemed sort of confused about Titania, which I think is a interesting approach to the character. It is more realistic for him not to just go along with a random woman seducing him in the woods and be totally fine with it. But when you make Bottom less ridiculous it means those scenes are a lot less crazy. In "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe," two of the performers broke out of their shell or hit their stride during the performance. I though that was interesting because you got these characters not just as vessels for comedy. The Lion, played by Snug, started out very mousy and scared but then everyone was encouraging her and Snug got back up on stage and roared her little heart out. It was so adorable and she was just so motivated and transformed. A similar thing happened to Thisbe, played by Flute. Thisbe starts out ridiculous with a very monotone and high-pitched voice but, then Flute turns the scene where Thisbe discovers the dead Pyramus into a moving scene and actually starts acting and doing well with it. Everyone in the theater started applauding like crazy. Even though there were these moments of Snug and Flute discovering their talents and actually showcasing them, that doesn't mean there wasn't any comedy in Pyramus and Thisbe. If there wasn't, it wouldn't have felt right. Snout, who played the Wall, just seemed really excited. It was hilarious how excited he was to play the Wall. Then once he got to the show, he took it so seriously, and was making sure everyone understood he was the Wall, and he was so proud of it. It was adorable and hilarious. The moon, played by Starveling, was also hilarious. He started getting very angry when people would talk over him. And he ripped the dog out of the thorn bush and started speeding through his lines because he was so angry that people were talking over his moment.

There was a choice they made near the end of the play, when the lovers finally get together: that Helena and Demetrius share a moment together alone on stage. I've never seen that happen. I thought it was really nice because this is the relationship that has changed the most, and it shows the difference between real human connection and the purposeful artificialness of some of the rest of the play. They kiss and then they talk about how they are going to talk about their "dream." That line is usually said to the group, but giving it to a scene between just Helena and Demetrius is sweet and effective. Puck has changed the way Demetrius feels about Helena by using a magical natural object (a flower) to unnaturally affect his feelings. It usually doesn't work out well to force someone into a relationship. But I had some hope for this relationship because they show you this moment of actual connection with just one line that shows you that they are actually going to talk to each other. Maybe they aren't just together because a random fairy told them to be.

People who would like this show are people who like Romantic sets, enthusiastic walls, and random fairies hooking you up. I think that people should go see this show. It is a great way for kids to learn about Shakespeare's plays, and it has some great performances in a beautiful space. I liked it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

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