A Midsummer Night's Dream
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., Oct. 29, 2004
A Midsummer Night's DreamBeverly Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, through Oct. 30, running time: 2 hrs, 30 min
Like a mild case of the flu, Shakespeare's plays appear in Austin in small epidemics. This season's infection is A Midsummer Night's Dream, with (at last count) three productions inside of six months. A touring British minicontagion, which landed at UT in September, and Mary Moody Northen Theatre's full-blown version later this winter bookend the current Austin Shakespeare Festival outbreak: For ASF, this is its second bout with Dream within four years. Yet this time the infection is less infectious.
An examination of the shenanigans of Guy Roberts and Ian Manners' co-directed production offers much by way of manic disposition, but not so much by way of substance. One of the best casts ever assembled by ASF is underutilized: Marc Pouhé's Theseus offers authority and a bit of comic slyness, and Rick Roemer's Oberon is a study of power mixed with sensitivity. After that the returns diminish. Roberts plays Puck as a wild goat-man, running about the hillside stage. He's immersed in the character's undulating sexuality and magic and clearly enjoys himself as he capers about. But it's more pose than poetry. While most of the company is comfortable with the broad physicality of characters magical and mundane, the production overflows with effect-for-effect's-sake: a PDA, a 1950s throwback microphone, long johns, a plastic saber: ancient Athens or catch-as-catch-can concept?
The action is limited to a plain, raked platform, around which the hillside audience is invited to sit. Proximity to the players intensifies the largely comic, nay, cartoonish feel of the production with all that running around, groin kicks, flatulence, and pratfalls. But it also allows for the occasional gem, discernable in spite of the fluff: Kelsey Kling's Hermia throws a glance at Ben Wolfe's Lysander that speaks to aching feelings never again considered; Corey Gagne's Bottom gets to indulge in gags up close and personal, though this character seems too smart to be hoofing it with the other rude mechanicals. The fairies look like supernatural creatures and writhe and sing to conjure otherworldliness. Alas, the show rather peters out, like the mechanicals' play, full of promise but in the end, rather innocuous.
Do we require more of this comedy of romantic chase-and-capture than a good rib tickling? Of course we do. Austin Shakespeare Festival has proven it is well capable of providing spectacle aplenty to keep its audiences entertained. Now, unanesthetize the work, and let its more potent magic infect us.