THEATER REVIEW: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” @ Great Lakes Theater by Roy Berko

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Through Sun 11/5

In his program notes to Great Lakes Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the show’s director states that the play allows the audience to “sympathize with the joy and pain of being in love; the mystery of attraction, the intoxication of loving fiercely and not having love returned and how deeply the anguish is felt when quick bright things come to confusion.”

Believe it or not, he is describing one of Shakespeare’s “most joyous comedies.” The fantasy story centers on three couples and six amateur actors, all unknowingly controlled by a group of fairies.

The settings are Athens and a nearby forest. The major event is the impending marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. While the festivities are being planned, Egeus, an Athenian nobleman, comes to court with his daughter, Hermia, and two young men, Demetrius and Lysander. Egeus wishes Hermia to marry Demetrius, but Hermia is in love with Lysander and refuses to comply. Theseus warns Hermia that disobeying her father’s wishes could result in her being sent to a convent or even executed.

Young love is powerful, and Hermia and Lysander plan to escape Athens the following night and marry. They confide in Hermia’s friend Helena, who was once engaged to Demetrius and still loves him. Hoping to regain his love, Helena tells Demetrius of the plot. And of course, chaos ensues. Love potions, a man turning into an ass, hooking up of wrong lovers, and a terrible play within a play takes place.

Sound confusing? It’s not. The obvious tale of mixed love, the bumbling of the good intention of the fairies, and the final conclusion when all’s well that ends well are all part of a delightful evening of Shakespeare and Great Lakes Theater at their very best.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with many of the Bard’s oft-repeated lines including “Lord, what fools these mortals be” and “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” Then there is “The course of true love never did run smooth,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s most important theme.

Other themes are the wonder of magic to embody the supernatural nature of love and as a device to create a surreal world. There is also a spotlight on the contemporary ideas of ambiguousness of sexuality, with some overtones of homoeroticism and lesbianism, as well as statements about feminism. All this is a script written in the late 1500s. A comedy, at that.

The GLT production, under the discerning direction of Joseph Hanreddy, is superb. The laughter is primed just right, the farce is well-keyed and the slapstick is held in check so that it is fun because it is well done, not overdone, as is the tendency in many of the stagings of the Bard’s comic works.

The cast is consistently excellent. Corey Mach delights as the mod-hip, endearingly outrageous gum-chewing Lysander. He is matched by Hermia, his lady love, in the personage of Michelle Pauker, who personifies well the Bard’s line, “And though she be little, she is fierce.”

Nick Steen reigns as both Theseus and the King of the Fairies. Jillian Kates is regal as both Queen of the Amazons and Queen of the Fairies. M. A. Taylor does himself proud as Puck, and Keri René Fuller delights as the much put-upon Helena. David Anthony Smith almost steals the show as Nick Bottom, the weaver turned ass, turned weaver.

Scott Bradley has taken a traditional Globe Theater set and added shades of teal and netting to create a charming play area for the lovers. Rachel Laritz’s modern-day costumes work well with the gentle updating of the Bard’s words and the mod interpretation.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Those who are afraid of seeing Shakespeare because of the oft abstract language and confusing plot twists should fear not. This production is a total delight, with a nice mash-up of comedy and outlandish farce, mixed in with a little lover’s stardust. It’s definite must see!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs in repertoire with The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Musical through Sun 11/5 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets: 216-664-6064 or greatlakestheater.org.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle]

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