A Midsummer Night's Dream
Moved to Texas with an all-female cast, the Bard's comedy is a summer escape
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Aug. 26, 2011
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Center Stage Texas, 2826 Real, 391-1800
Through Aug. 27
Running time: 2 hr.
Amid the heat and drought of this extreme Texas summer, the Weird Sisters Women's Theater Collective stages a version of one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream, that famous tale of confused couples, this time set in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country. Besides the cowboy boots and occasional find-and-replace of "Austin" for "Athens," there's another switch-up: The cast is entirely female. Lysander, one of the primary love interests, has even switched sides to become Lysandra (Hollie Baker), a young lady of the court who desires nothing so much as to marry young Hermia (Leslie Guerrero-Collins), if only Texas law would permit it. Also, the duke Theseus (Noelle Fitzsimmons) wears a wig that even likens the character somewhat to Gov. Goodhair himself.
Not a bad idea. The cast of 16 embraces the idea of the production without hesitation and the comedy of the play wholeheartedly. Led by co-director Susan Gayle Todd as Peter Quince and Vicki Yoder as Bottom, the rude mechanicals (the players within the play, not the Austin theatre company at the Off Center) in particular delight with their energy and willingness to exploit the hilarity of their parts. It's perhaps unfair to say that these rude mechanicals are the best part of the play, because as Shakespeare wrote them, the characters tend to steal the show. So often they're the reason one goes to see a production of Midsummer, and in this case, the actors play the parts well.
Under the direction of Todd and Christa French (who also plays Titania), the production and its message would work better if the chemistry between the lovers – any of them – were more in evidence. As it is, the general lack of classical training among the cast is inescapable. Much of it comes down to fundamentals: the inability to keep one's feet still while delivering a line, playing the opposite gender physically and not just in costume, or a speech tic brought even more to light by the verse. Performing Shakespeare is challenging enough for an actor who has made a thorough study of how to approach the text; without that foundation, it's rough going.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is often a golden opportunity for designers who can enjoy creating both the staid, formal world of the court and the forest world of the unpredictable fairies. Here, Guerrero-Collins' makeup is especially successful in its masklike embrace of color and character. Set designers Fitzsimmons and Rae Petersen have adorned the Center Stage Texas space with several giant butterflylike creatures. Each is eye-catching, although the dim lighting does not do them justice.
The program notes mention that the Weird Sisters have created this production in part as a means of escaping to a place of wonder and release. With so much outside to make one hide, it's not a bad thing to join the lovers in the forest, even if it's only for a little while.