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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream
By Bruce T. Paddock

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

— Helena
(Photo by: Olivia Winslow)
It could be argued, and I guess that's what I'm doing, that A Midsummer Night's Dream is the best way to introduce young people, not to mention adult newcomers, to Shakespeare. The plot is simple, the script is funny, and opportunities for extratextual clowning abound.

Sure, you can read all sorts of analyses of subtext and themes and the portrayal of three different worlds: the formal, intellectual nobility; the crude, dim workingmen; and the ethereal supernatural beings. But truth be told, that's all gravy. You don't have to be aware of any of it in order to enjoy the play. You just have to watch and listen and laugh.

That Midsummer is the most suited of Shakespeare's plays to an outdoor venue is obvious, especially with the outdoor and indoor acts now conflated to play out in a single 90-minute in the woodsy setting of Shakespeare & Company's former home, now run by the Edith Wharton Organization.

The cast is quite young. All are good and several are excellent. And although I didn't notice anything missing from the text, I'd swear the evening was even shorter than the 90 minutes noted in the program.

Before the show starts, cast members warm up in the playing area and roam through the sitting area which makes everything even more accessible to youngsters. (One attendee I'd guess to be about five years old was too shy to respond when the actor who would play Hermia tried to chat with her, but she seemed to enjoy the show from beginning to end.)

A sound cue heralds the opening, a brief preliminary in which several pairs of actors engage in embarrassingly bad stage combat. Fortunately, these goings-on are quickly over, and the play soon starts in earnest.

The cast's energy and enthusiasm is apparent from the first scene, in which Egeus comes to the Duke complaining that her daughter, Hermia, refuses to enter into an arranged marriage with Demetrius because she loves Lysander instead. That's right — "her" daughter. Making Egeus a woman is just one of a number of interesting casting choices probably based, on necessity, that either benefit the production or at least do it no harm.

Two-thirds of the mechanicals are portrayed by women playing men, but they're all funny, so who cares? Lori Evans takes a fine turn as the outraged, now-female Egeus. Oberon and Titania have lost their retinues of attendants, although she still has Cobweb and Peaseblossom, played by the actors who also portray Quince and Helena. Caitlin Kraft marks time in a couple of scenes as Hippolyta, but is an absolute delight as poor Snug, working as hard as he can to believably portray a lion.

And speaking of the mechanicals, their rehearsals and performances are stolen by Tim Dowd as brash, hyper confident, moronic Bottom. He wrings laughter from every line and many of the spaces between lines. Had there been any scenery, he'd have been chewing it.

Notice should also be taken of Rory Hammond as Peter Quince, whose frustration are dealing with Bottom. The other malaprop-spewing stooges are palpable and delightful.

Of the actors portraying the two leading couples — Caroline Calkins as Hermia, Luke Haskell as Lysander, Madeleine Rose Maggio as Helena, and Thomas Reynolds as Demetrius. None of them really stand out, but only because they're all so good.

Govane Lohbauer's costumes are eclectic and unmemorable, except for Titania's gorgeous, flowing, sea-foam green gown and Oberon's brown-and-black, woodland-themed suit. That gown exemplifies "ethereal" and Oberon's brown-and-black, woodland-themed suit and crown.

Directors Jonathan Croy and Douglas Seldin keep the action moving non-stop and make full use of the enormous playing space. Unlike, say, the Delacorte Theater in Central Park or Shakespeare & Company's own Roman Garden Theatre, this is not a stage built outdoors. It's an open space, 40 or 50 yards long, surrounded by trees. All 15 actors are to be commended for having the stamina to cover long stretches of territory quickly and the vocal chops to make themselves heard no matter where they were in this boisterous, rough-and-tumble production. It all adds up to an engaging, entertaining evening for neophyte and veteran alike.

Editor's Note: Watch for our review of the current Midsummer production at the Delacorte. To read about some of the many others we've reviewed at Curtainup see our Shakespeare Page which includes quotations and links to all reviews.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jonathan Croy and Douglas Seldin
Cast: David Bertoldi (Oberon) Caroline Calkins (Hermia) Tim Dowd (Bottom) Lori Evans (Egeus) Rory Hammond (Quince/Peaseblossom) Luke Haskell (Lysander) Kate Kenney (Titania) Mairead Koehler (Snout) Caitlin Kraft (Hippolyta/Snug) Madeleine Rose Maggio (Helena/Cobweb) Devante Owens (Theseus) Thomas Randle (Puck) Thomas Reynolds (Demetrius) Leon Schwendener (Flute) Dara Silverman (Philostrate/Starveling) Set design: Jonathan Croy
Costume design: Govane Lohbauer
Sound design: Jonathan Croy
Stage Manager: Cindy Wade
Voice/Text Coaches: Ariel Bock, Gwendolyn Schwinke
Running Time: 90 minutes; no intermission
The Dell — Outdoors at the Mount; 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA
From 7/11/17; closing 8/19/17
Reviewed by Bruce T. Paddock at July 27 performance

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