By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
I must be getting soft in my old age. Recently I saw a production of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters – which I consider to be the worst play ever written and just short of a war crime – and I actually enjoyed it. And now here I am coming from PICT Theatre’s presentation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I am delighted (and a little gobsmacked) to tell you that I had a lot of fun.
To know me is to know how little patience I have with ol’ Bill and his oeuvre, and certainly Midsummer is just about the silliest play ever. So maybe it’s just because I’m mellowing out, or maybe even I’m sick of hearing me complain … or maybe because I saw this confection about summer lovin’ on the coldest night of the year. But I laughed a lot during the show and on the way home said to no one: “That was cute.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through February 29. WQED Studios, Oakland. 412/561-6000. www.picttheatre.org
It could be a combination of all these elements, but surely the biggest reason is this deft and sprightly production conjured up by PICT artistic director Alan Stanford.
If for some reason you need a synopsis for a term paper – We’re in ancient Athens and just about to celebrate the wedding of King Theseus and his Hippolyta (formerly Queen of the Amazons.) Theseus, however, has a bit of kinging to do before the big day. A father, Egeus, shows up at court angry; his daughter Hermia won’t marry Demetrius, the man he’s picked out for her, because she’s in love with Lysander. Meanwhile Hermia’s bestie Helena is thirsty for Demetrius … but he’s totes over her.
Egeus petitions Theseus to uphold an ancient Athenian law calling for the death of a disobedient daughter. This sends Hermia and Lysander fleeing into the woods with Helena and Demetrius, each for their own reason, following.
Now here come what are known as the Rude Mechanicals – Athenian craftsmen gathering in the woods to rehearse a play to perform at the royal wedding. None of them have any talent, all are thuddingly stupid and the lead actor, Bottom, tops it all off with ridiculous pomposity.
As it turns out, everyone’s strayed into Fairyland, a place in the woods ruled by Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies. She has a retinue of young fairies and he has his aide-de-camp Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow.)
But what, you may ask, are fairies without magic? So Oberon produces a flower the nectar of which, when squirted into the eye, will cause that individual to fall in love with the next person they see.
And, oh the merry mix-ups that ensue! The four lovers get their wires hopelessly crossed, Bottom is turned into a donkey and Titania falls madly in love with him. But not to worry, it all ends in a comical mess with everybody getting married.
Sandford and his design team – Zoe Baltimore’s costumes and Keith A. Truax’s lights – create a pristine stagescape of shimmering white light. (Perhaps a nod to Peter Brooks’ landmark 1970 production?) It’s an other-worldly look, and a very seductive one. Sanford has done extraordinary work balancing so many disparate elements; the production is fleet without being forced, the cast plays the humor but never signals it, he imbues the production with an enormous youthful energy but keeps control of movement, plot and characterization. Even the “fairy” parts of the show – which I usually find nauseatingly precious and numbingly twee – here feel surprisingly, and rewardingly, grounded.
Shammen McCune and Allan Snyder play both royal couples and handle the language with poetry and power – a lot of people have to spout a lot of nonsense in this play, but McCune and Snyder make it as natural as breathing.
Saige Smith, David Toole, Ryan Patrick Kearney and Zoe Abuyuan as the lovers bring a very real, and funny, sense of youthful intensity; their physicality is especially entertaining. They also double as four of the Mechanicals and prove they know their way around Stooges’ schtick.
Leading the mechanicals are Martin Giles as Bottom and James FitzGerald as Quince, the director of the play-within-the-play … and they’re having a field day sending up every overblown actor and underwhelming director to ever step foot on a stage.
Jacob Epstein is a very limber and rocket-fueled Puck, bubbling with momentum while Christine Starkey, Caroline, Lucas, Grace Vensel and Abigail Gilman are sharply defined as Titania’s court.
It may all melt away in the hard light of day, but PICT’s Midsummer Night is a delight.