A Midsummer Night’s Dream–Great River Shakespeare

July 13th–we have had a brief respite from the heat, and today was a marvelous 75 F degrees. We will be back in the 90s again tomorrow, for it is midsummer indeed, and it is also the middle of the Great River Shakespeare Festival’s 2011 season. How appropriate, then, that one of this year’s productions is Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Technically, this brief review is long overdue. I saw the play in its last pre-season performance a few weeks ago. However, with out of town travel, I was only reminded of my oversight today when I went in to purchase tickets for Henry IV. Allow me to make amends:

Character List, in brief: Puck, Oberon, Titania, Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, Helena, Egeus, Theseus, Hippolyta, Bottom, and the other workman players.

I have heard it said that the success of this romantic comedy largely depends on the performances of Puc and Bottom. They are not main characters in the traditional sense–the love stories between Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena take center stage for much of the play, as well as the contest between Oberon and his fairy queen. However, after seeing the play, I think I agree. Puc, the sprightly trickster of Oberon… and Bottom, the–pardon me–“ass” of our play must carry us through the overlapping stories of the human and fairy worlds.  And I am pleased to say, these were well-cast in this year’s performance.

The players made excellent use of body poise; some of the play seemed more like a modern dance. Puc especially had this quality; I am afraid I do not know the player’s name (as the programs were not yet printed), but she had a nimbleness that made it easy to believe she was not of this world. (Leaping, jumping, climbing the sparse but effective set, practically standing upon Oberon like a pixie–it was well performed). Bottom’s character was–like the set used–less ornamented than is often the case with the worker-turned-jackass. He had emblematic ears, but no large mask to deal with. He played the ass more than looking the ass. Again, the simple nature of the staging and attire added to, rather than taking away from, the play as a whole.

I was equally impressed with Oberon and Titania–and the fairy folk. The costumes were a great deal of fun, and the dance-like performance a joy to watch. I must also say that the lovers discourse between Lysander and Hermia at the opening was handled well–just enough pause to allow you into the joke of their dramatics. The fight between Hermia and Helena was very humorous and, I confess, the crowd laughed most at the falsetto of one of the workman-players. It was a jovial evening, and time well spent. I think the only part of the play that I might wish to see altered was the faux play at the end; the workman players did their part earlier and it seemed the full enactment of their amusement was more than the audience needed. Even so, I would see it again (if I weren’t already seeing Henry IV and Lear).

Thanks to the performers and to the festival–another wonderful reason to be in Winona over the summer!

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