Review: Midsummer Night's Dream all fun and tomfoolery in the forest

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The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions have created a dream version of Shakespeare’s witty romantic fantasy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Visiting director Ron Jenkins knows how to stage physical comedy so it seems natural rather than simply imposed slapstick, which works so well for all the outrageous hijinx that happens in the forest just outside Athens.

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There’s trouble in this idyllic forest because the fairy king Oberon (Joel Cochrane) is feuding with his queen Titania (Daniela Vlaskalic) over a gift she refuses to share with him. Oberon has a couple of magic flowers up his sleeve that he intends to use to make Titania fall in love with, hopefully, some hideous beast. He leaves the assignment up to his loyal sprite, and supreme prankster, Puck (a rambunctious, scene-stealing Kit Benz).

Into the forest come two unsuspecting pairs of mismatched lovers chasing one another. Helena (Annisha Plesche) loves Demetrius (Joel David Taylor), but he loves Hermia (Ali Grams), who loves Lysander (Bernardo Pacheco), who has been forbidden to be with her, by her tyrannical father Egeus (Michael Rolfe).

Also using the forest this particular evening is a group of amateur thespians rehearsing a play. The hammiest of that troupe is the weaver Bottom (Tyrell Crews), whom Puck turns into a donkey, and arranges for him to become the apple of Titania’s eye when she awakes from her afternoon nap, a device that has delighted audiences for more than 500 years. Crews doesn’t miss a beat in making Bottom a lovable, laughable buffoon.

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Shaespeare
Some of the cast in Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions. Courtesy, Tim Nguyen Photo by Tim Nguyen Co. /Tim Nguyen Co.

Puck and Bottom are written to get big laughs, as are Bottom’s bumbling fellow thespians, but not necessarily so the lovers, unless, as Jenkins has decided to play them, they are as foolish as the other humans in the enchanted forest. Jenkins has given Plesche, Grams, Taylor and Pacheco some of the wildest pratfalls in the production, so their wooing looks more like tag-team wrestling matches.

This is one production where double casting really works. Stephanie Bessala, Nikko Angelo Hinayo, Helen Knight, and Omar Javaid not only play the workmen but also convincingly play Titania’s fairies. Rolfe is excellent as Peter Quince, the artistic director of the thespians, as well as Hermia’s raging father. All are helped in their doubling by Ralamy Kneeshaw’s excellent costumes and wigs.

Cochrane and Vlaskalic also have double duty, playing Theseus, king of Athens, and his queen Hippolyta. This royal duo has far fewer lines than Oberon and Titania, but Cochrane and Vlaskalic say volumes with their physicality. Watch how Vlaskalic reacts when Cochrane tells poor pleading Hermia she must wed Demetrius, enter a convent or die, and just watch how pompous he is in rendering his sentence.

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The play being rehearsed is a riff on Romeo and Juliet and it features the overwrought acting styles Hamlet warns about when he addresses the players who come to his castle. In the hands of Jenkins’ thespians, it’s great silly, unsubtle fun, with small comedic bursts from Javid as the lion, Knight as the wall, and Bessala as the moon, and major comedy from Crews as the bombastic knight Pyramus, and Hinayo as his sweet, retiring lover Thisbe.

Anton deGroot’s set, with its tie-dye drapes, tree clumps, and a trampoline disguised as a forest arbour, is the ideal setting for Jenkins’ Dream, and it’s made even more winning by Narda McCarroll’s lighting, and Greg Wilson’s clever sound design.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs in the Vertigo Studio Theatre until June 1 with 7 p.m. shows Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. matinees on Saturdays.

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