Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through March 6Running time: 2 hrs, 10 min
"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Arguably the most familiar line from the most familiar of Shakespearean comedies, and by the time the fairy Puck gets to deliver it in this Mary Moody Northen Theatre production, we really see his point: young mortals chasing each other through the wood in the middle of the night; best friends trying to claw each other's eyes out; a moonstruck girl throwing herself at a guy's feet, latching onto his ankle, and letting him drag her across the ground, then stubbornly refusing his affection when it finally comes her way; a clutch of working-class rubes clumsily rehearsing a play; one guy babbling all his lines at once; another boasting that he can play any part and making a real ass of himself (OK, maybe he had a little help on that score). The point is, in director Lucien Douglas' staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream, folly comes to the fore. It plays up how silly we can be when our oh-so-human feelings get the better of us, when we dash off chasing some dream.
To be fair to the mortals, however, they get more than a little help from their fairy critic. After all, it's Puck who slaps the donkey head on Nick Bottom and dabs love juice on the eyes of the Athenian boys, ramping up the foolishness of the young lovers to the fourth power. And Douglas keeps Bianca Malinowski's Puck in the thick of the action at all times, invisibly tugging on this lover's sleeve or seizing that lover's leg like a pesky briar that won't let them go. Malinowski's forest-green costume calls to mind Peter Pan, and her performance has a bit of the air of Neverland about it, too. Her cocky stance with arms akimbo, her self-satisfied laugh, the childish glee with which her Puck rolls on the ground and plays pranks all point to a Lost Boy, living for wild escapades and mischief, blowing razzberries at all things mature.
Come to think of it, the fairies aren't so immune to folly here themselves. When Titania gets her own dose of love juice from her miffed hubby, Oberon Aaron D. Alexander, with a storm cloud across his brow and thunder in his voice Valerie Redd slinks after David Mireles' braying Bottom like a cat who needs some serious scratching. She and her handmaidens all boast curly blond tresses and diaphanous gowns, putting them somewhere between the nymphs of classical art and sirens of the 1950s silver screen, so when they kneel around Bottom, breathily attending to his every whim, it feels like some goofy post-war Playboy fantasy.
It's moments like these and Puck's horseplay and that comically tangled face-off among the four lovers that tend to draw you into the world of the play. The play's more sober side, while treated with fitting gravity by all the actors (and richly represented in 1920s-era evening attire by costumer Michelle Heath), comes off as rather cool and impersonal. The poetry, that other aspect of the play for which it's so famed, rarely sings. So we come back to the foolishness. The lovers Lanella Zotter, David Gallagher, Angela Flowers, and Joseph Parks are well-matched and play well off one another, particularly in the nicely choreographed fracas that opens the second act. And the Rude Mechanicals are all oafish enough to provoke our laughter yet innocent enough to stay endeared to us. This is most true of Mireles' bully Bottom, with his sweeping gestures and ingratiating smile. Foolish he may be all of them may be but in this solid presentation fools make for pretty pleasant company.
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