Presented by Actor’s Shakespeare Project
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Patrick Swanson
Review by Travis Manni
(Cambridge, MA) Any fan of Shakespeare’s work knows how malleable his plays are. You could see the same show for years and years and still experience something different each time. In Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s most recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this trend continues.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as royal figures Theseus (Equiano Mosieri) and Hippolyta (Paula Plum) begin the celebrations of their marriage, teenaged Hermia (Elle Borders) and Lysander (Jake Athyal) declare their love for one another. When her father refuses to bless their union, the star-crossed pair flees to the woods, followed closely by Hermia’s would-be suitor Demetrius (Mac Young) and best friend Helena (Monica Giordano). As the group of Athenians travel deeper and deeper into the forest, they find themselves the unbeknownst victims of fairy Puck’s (Sarah Newhouse) cruel tricks. Their fate lies within the hands of Oberon (Mosieri), King of the Fairies, but will his quarrels with Queen and wife Titania (Plum) rule him merciful or malevolent?
Cast members played with Shakespeare’s humor in a subtle but measured way. They knew how to keep the audience engaged and entertained while still adding the multitudinous layers expected from a Shakespeare plot. In particular, Steven Barkhimer as Bottom, the ass-headed actor, had a great time playing with the character’s lines and added great moments of hysterics. Newhouse as Puck also left a strong impression, falling into the whimsy of the role to make the trickster feel new and exciting, but still able to add the touch of somber nostalgia in the show’s final monologue to remind you of Shakespeare’s warm brilliance.
The most entrancing aspect of this show is how pretty it is. My eyes were darting back and forth between the different artistic elements to make sure everything soaked in. Jessica Pribble’s costume design was beautiful. The pristine sharpness of Theseus’ kingly clothes contrasted with the splashes of color in Oberon and Titania’s layered, fairy looks was satisfying and elegant. Deb Sullivan’s lighting design meshed seamlessly with Eric Levenson’s set design. I was enthralled with the pairs of yellow roses projected onto the set’s white backdrop from behind to represent scenes in the forest. It was so simple yet glamorous, and aesthetically pleasing af.
I was also extremely impressed with the amount of quick costume changes that occurred throughout the show. As in most Shakespeare shows, many actors played more than one role. However, the speed with which some of them were able to pull off their quick changes, and with costumes that looked so layered and complex, added a nice, magical touch to the show.
One glaring element that works against this show is its venue. The space is too large, with a ceiling that looms high enough to give anyone a feeling of acrophobia. In fact, it’s so large that it caused a great deal of the actors’ words to reverberate and become swallowed up, and I struggled to understand what was being said. Since enunciation is a pivotal component to any Shakespearean production, it was rather disappointing to sit through a show I could only hear seventy-five percent of the time.
Overall, I would recommend this show to anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s work. If it’s your first time seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, what’s wrong with you?! But also, this may not be the production you should experience first since the language of Shakespeare’s work can’t be truly appreciated. Still, this show will draw any theatre lover in to enjoy the pretty dream as it unfolds.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs for 2 hours, 30 minutes, excluding any emergency fire alarm evacuations*, with one intermission. To purchase tickets, click here.
*The performance I attended did in fact involve an evacuation due to an accidentally triggered fire alarm. The crew and ushers handled the situation in a timely and professional manner, and the actors didn’t allow the situation to dampen their spirits or sense of humor. Shout out to the Cambridge Fire Department!
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