Highly Recommended **** I love seeing Shakespeare under the stars. With its forest setting, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is an ideal choice for First Folio’s 20th anniversary on the outdoor stage. Nay-sayers aside, we know that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be heavy going. In fact, Director Hayley Rice’s light-hearted approach had the audience chuckling. I don’t mind admitting that I was laughing too! I give “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 4 Spotlights.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not an easy play to stage, what with three distinct sets of characters; the gentles (Shakespeare’s term for those of ‘higher birth’), the Mechanicals who want to stage a play for the Duke’s nuptials, and the fairies; not to mention the fact that the action takes place in both a city and a forest.
First Folio made the sometimes problematic city/forest settings look easy by building a new façade which covers the existing two-level stage. For the city background, FF hung shiny gold curtains behind all sorts of fantastical cut-outs and curlicues, lending a somewhat royal flavor. When the fairies appear, many popping out of raised wells, they pull the curtains out of sight, revealing lots of convenient nooks and crannies.
Costumes for the gentles and the mechanicals are period, featuring over-the-shoulder capes and knee pants with white stockings on the men, long dresses with stomachers for the women. The fairies, on the other hand, are wearing rock-star modern. Oberon (Michael Joseph Mitchell) and Titania (Johanna McKenzie Miller) are both wearing royal fairy robes over black slacks and a black shirt. Puck could be part of a Lesbian heavy metal band.
Johanna McKenzie Miller’s Hippolyta is quiet, serious and very unhappy with her fiancé, the Duke, which he only realizes after she gives him that look – the one that could freeze a furnace. As capricious, mischievous Titania, she loves to swish her regal robes for emphasis.
Michael Joseph Mitchell, who is often cast in character parts, is an interesting choice for Duke Thesius and Oberon. There’s no doubt that Thesius is a ruler, but in Hippolyta’s eyes, he does a terrible job arbitrating a dispute between Egeus (Gordon Chow) and his daughter, Hermia (Sarah Wisterman). As Oberon, he’s equally imperious as he commands Puck (Sydney Germaine) to do his bidding. Putting on his aviator sunglasses is the signal for invisibility.
Egeus cites an ancient law under which he can have his daughter, Hermia put to death if she doesn’t marry Demetrius (Tony Carter). She refuses to marry Demetrius, who manipulated Helena (Au Burch) into loving him, but he doesn’t want her. Hermia and Lysander (T. Isaac Sherman) are in love with each other. The star-crossed lovers are so involved in their own mini-dramas they are oblivious to everything going on around them. By the way the slanging match between Hermia and Helena is classic. Wisterman’s screaming hissy fit has to be seen to be believed.
The mechanicals, a group of common laborers are eager to perform a play to honor the Duke’s wedding. Peter Quince (Chow) who wrote the play assigns the leading role to Nick Bottom (Steve Peebles), who is delighted. As Quince describes each additional part, Bottom plays that role. He’s clearly the kind of performer who thinks the grass is always greener. Tony Snout (Stefan Brundage), Snug (Mitchell Spencer), Starveling (Austin England) and Flute (David Gordon-Johson) are the other mechanicals.
When Titania commands, her fairies pop up from all directions. Cobweb (Dina Monk), Moth (Polley Cooney), Peaseblossom (Rebecca Keeshin) and Mustardseed (James Smart) all danced to music DJ (Eric K Robert) generates on his boombox – occasionally doing a conga line, or the hora, or another well-known line dance.
In most productions, Bottom dons a pair of long ears and maybe a nose and tail. In addition to the long ears, Bottom’s full-sized ass head, which fit over his human head, was made from chicken wire with eyes and mouth outlined in paint. At one point, when Bottom absent mindedly scratches his head – on the frame – his puzzled face shows through the wire.
Although I can think of at least four other outdoor productions of Shakespeare’s plays – two touring the parks in the Chicago and two touring different parks in Indiana – my favorite place to see Shakespeare continues to be First Folio’s outdoor stage on the Mayslake Estate Forest Preserve. You won’t find a better spot. Bring your lawn chairs or your blankets, there’s lots of room to spread out on the mini-hillside around the stage.
Most people bring their own snacks, sometimes quite elaborate. I once saw a group with their own low table, candles and stemware for their wine. Opening night, a lady sitting nearby offered me a snack from a plate with a selection of cheeses and sausages. This year, First Folio is offering a selection of catered dinners. Contact First Folio for more information. In addition, a limited selection of snacks is for sale.
If you forget your lawn chair or blanket, both are available to rent. First Folio-provided Citronella candles keep bugs away. You’ll want to dress comfortably, and bring a jacket because night air can get a little chilly. It was downright cold on opening night, but I wrapped up in a fleece blanket and kept warm.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through August 14th on First Folio’s outdoor stage on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st Street (31st & Rt. 83), Oakbrook.
Running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Performances are :
Thursday 8:15 p.m.
Friday 8:15 p.m.
Saturday 8:15 p.m.
Sunday 8:15 p.m.
Tickets range from $29-$39. Parking is free. FYI (630) 986-8067 or www.firstfolio.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”