Reviewed by Will Stackman
Today director's seem to feel compelled to find a identifiable concept when approaching Shakespeare. One of the Bard's most produced comedies, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is fortunately almost actor and concept proof. Even the ART's aerial version had its moments, thanks to a strong group of rude mechanicals. Director and member of the Kenyon faculty Daniel Elihu Kramer's approach has generated some less than convincing publicity concerning gender-switching between local favorite Paula Plum and Timothy John Smith, not to mention a misleading poster image. Plum plays Hippolyta then Oberon while Smith plays Theseus and Titania. The conceit works not because of insight but because of the skill of these principals, plus an impressive ensemble of local Shakespeareans and fast paced direction. Plum is a multiple award winning actress and Smith is the artistic director of the Redfeather outdoor Shakespeare festival in Worchester where he teaches at the College of the Holy Cross.
The remaining six actors double and triple their way through the play's complexity. Robert Pemberton, who played Mark Anthony several seasons ago, is a stentorious Bottom assaying both "Pyramus" and a powerful Egeus. Shelley Bolman is young Lysander, in love with Egeus' daughter Hermia, as well as Peter Quince, the author "Pyramus and Theseus" and organizer of the mechanicals. Angie Jepson is petite Hermia, claimed by Risher Reddick's Demetrius, who doubles as Francis Flute, who of course plays "Thisbe." Jepson is a cute "Lion" as Snug the Joiner, rather different from her appearance as Cressida for the Publick Theatre. She also is a fine First Fairy. Elizabeth Hayes, seen in BTW's "The Tempest" as Miranda, is taller Helena, desperately in love with Demetrius. Hayes also plays Snout the tinker aka "Wall." Finally Ben Lambert, who was Ferdinand in the above mentioned production, is a lithe Puck, as well as Starveling ("Moonshine"), and Philostrate.
The four young lovers all become Titania's fairies by donning simple white robes. Very basic costumes facilitate such character changes on a bare set, covered with red flowers, which might suggest a field of poppies from Oz. The rather uninspired costumes, mostly black and white but in need of more detail and touches of color are uncredited. There may be too much actor input here. Minor additions might be made during the run. The set conceived by Zeynep Bakkal has a bathtub which serves mainly as Titania's bower. Puck first appears then ends the play sleeping in it. The moon is symbolized by a large wall clock internally lit in blue. John R. Malinowski provides careful lighting to define various scenes. Kramer uses the open three-quarter stage economically, moving through the red flowers protruding from the floor when necessary.
Transformation is indeed an important theme in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", but is more illuminated by doing this play with only eight actors than by having Plum play the King of the fairies as well as Hippolyta and Smith play Theseus and Queen Titania, though the psychological implications are interesting. He does so by simply modulating his tones without changing to a higher voice. Plum is always a commanding presence onstage whether playing Shakespeare or Coward, who could probably play Richard III if asked to. During "Pyramus & Thisbe" the royal couple alone do the asides which for once aren't lost in audience laughter, a tribute to practiced projection--they're facing onstage--and superior enunciation. The entire ensemble have the experience and training to tackle both the play's verse and comedy, both romantic and low.