Utah Shakespeare Festival’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ brings magic

By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today

Of course, a roaring 20s and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” mashup make for theatre magic. Fairies in the Golden 20s just make sense, or at least they do after Director Kirsten Brandt and an imaginative artistic staff moved the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into the jazz age.

Framed by Scenic Designer Jason Lajka’s streamlined but stunning set, “Midsummer’s” characters are more dramatic, more glamorous and campier than they would be in a traditional staging. From a ritzy art, deco home for the rich and famous Duke of Athens to the carved silver floral staircase and balcony of a fairyland forest, Lajka brings a creative architectural backdrop to this play.

It’s always risky to take one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays out of its traditional time period and plunk it into another era, especially one as iconic as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Fortunately, this play of four young lovers, two strong-willed ruling couples, a mischief loving Puck and an enormously silly band of “rude mechanicals” actors is as delightful in 1920s Athenian forest as an ancient time period. “Midsummer” is well known as a visually beautiful play and while this version is not dripping in flora and fauna, it is beautiful. Kirk Bookman’s lighting is magical as it casts the forest in shades of blue, aqua and green. While Brenda Van Der Weil’s, costumes are a mix of diaphanous flowing fairy costumes to beautiful brocades and glitzy flapper dresses.

The cast and artistic staff committed fully to this decidedly different version without sacrificing the humor of the story, the dreamlike quality of the setting or the poetry of Shakespeare.

The two ruling couples of Athens, the Duke of Athens and his bride to be Hippolyta along with Titania, queen of the fairies and Oberon king of the fairies are superbly played by J. Todd Adams and Melinda Parrett. Adams brings two very distinct characters to the stage. His Theseus is confident and suave while his Oberon was mischievous and powerful. Parrett’s ruling women Hippolyta and Titania are an equal match for Abram’s ruling men.  She brings a sultry and worldly wise Hippolyta to the stage and a sensual and strong-willed Titania to the forest.

Joining these actors are excellent performances by the rest of the cast. Kelly Rogers brings a punked out 20s version of Puck that is pure mischief. Funny and naughty and no less powerful than the other fairies it is Puck who wreaks hilarious mayhem on a forest full of lovers including Titania and Bottom (James Newcomb) the rude mechanical turned Donkey.  The four young lovers Lysander (Riley Shanahan) and Hermia (Kaitlin Margaret Mills) and Demetrius (Marco Antonio Vega) and Helena (Cassandra Bissell) were perhaps the funniest mixed up “Midsummer” couples I have ever seen. These fighting and chasing scenes can become tedious and whiny but these four actors were hysterical. Mills’ Hermia epitomizes Helen’s description of her, “Though she be but little, she be fierce.” And Bissell used every facial expression and body movement to portray her caricature of a petulant Helena.

Within this play is another developing play, that of Pyramus and Thisbe, as produced by the ragtag band of a tailor, a weaver, a joiner, a bellows-mender and a tinker.  Their little aside story that acts as a way to bring Bottom into the forest where he can become the object of Puck’s and Oberon’s trickery is uproariously funny. This band of amateur actors had the audience guffawing in their seats. Eric Schabla’s antics as Thisbe even seemed to have his fellow actors in stitches at one point.  

In the end, it was difficult to leave the enchantment of this imaginative version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” behind. Because what could be better than watching fairies and the roaring 20s combined into one magical, funny story.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be seen in the Randall L. Jones Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival through October 21st. For more information or to purchase tickets visit bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX.

Photo by Karl Hugh copyright of Utah Shakespeare Festival


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