A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM:
'Midsummer Night's Dream' takes on darker hue
Published:July 31, 2012, 2:00 AM
deep summer spell has descended on a small corner of Delaware
Park, where a spirited production
of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opened Friday night after rain forced
the cancellation of its original opening Thursday.
Kyle LoConti's keen and clean production of this beloved comedy - the fourth
in the company's 37-year history - took on a slightly more serious tone than
fans of the play might be used to. But the sense of foreboding and the implied
dark undercurrent that seemed to motivate the members of Shakespeare's fairy
realm served as a fine counterpoint to the innocent frivolity and outright
slapstick in which its mere mortal characters engage.
Thursday night, as angry storm clouds gathered above the park, the entrance
of the fairy king Oberon (Adriano Gatto) was met with rolling thunder - one of
those glorious moments in outdoor Shakespeare in which it was impossible to
tell whether the sound was the work of nature or of Katie Menke, the company's
gifted sound designer.
That it was the latter speaks to LoConti's subtly subversive approach to the
play, which other directors might have approached with a lighthearted, Judd
Apatow-esque sensibility. In this production, Oberon's feud with the fairy
queen Titania (Morgan Chard) over a changeling boy and his use of punk-rock
manservant Puck (Chicago-based actor Chad Fess) plays out in ominous chords.
Oberon and Puck's true motivation is never quite spelled out, but one gets the
sense from watching Fess slink across the stage that whatever drives him and
his master is not entirely savory.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," whose language and events have
filtered into any number of films, books, operas, ballets and poems, follows
three separate groups whose exploits eventually lead them to intersect: a group
of young Athenians in various states of love and lust; a bumbling group of
amateur actors; and the mischievous and jealous spirits of the fairy world.
LoConti has transposed the action of the play from the woods near Athens
to British Honduras in the 1920s, with excellent
costumes by Dixon Reynolds making the distinction among these three groups
crystal-clear. The Athenians are dressed as British colonists, the amateur
players as members of the indigenous culture and the spirits as mystical, Mayan
royalty. Anyone with knowledge of the rituals of ancient Mayan royalty might
have questions about Oberon's intentions - as it seems clear LoConti is nudging
the audience to have.
But there's no need to read that deeply into things. Merely on a surface
level, this production is a riot, with excellent comic performances from Emily
Hin as Hermia, Kevin Donahue as Lysander, Mary Ryan as Helena,
and especially, Jeffrey Coyle as Bottom, the actor-turned-ass whose character
is designed to steal every scene in which he appears.
Coyle, who even in serious roles tends to leave no piece of scenery behind
without teeth marks, is perfect for the character. His performance is a stew of
influences, from commedia dell'arte to Christopher Walken and back again, and
his endless death scene in the story's play-within-a-play is one highlight of
physical comedy among many.
Hin's Hermia is lovely, adding just enough contemporary touches and
inflections to clue us in to her character's frustration without taking us too
far out of the play's setting. Ryan, as Helena,
struck me at first as overenthusiastic, but her quirky and self-conscious
approach grew more and more endearing as the play went on. In Fess' hands, the
mohawk-wearing Puck was not just mischievous but menacing, a cackling,
scampering sprite you would absolutely not like to encounter on a moonlit night
in the forest.
In the end, LoConti's production succeeds because it works so well on two
distinct levels: as a straight-up comedy, full of enchantment and frivolity;
and, for those who dare to peer a little bit deeper, as a darker rumination
interrupted by bright flashes of humor.