A Midsummer Night’s Dream (First Folio)

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Oberon (Michael Joseph Mitchell) and Puck (Sydney Germaine). Photos by David Rice.

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Hayley Rice

Produced by First Folio Theatre, Oak Brook

Magic Envelops Peabody Estate

Few Shakespeare plays are better suited to outdoor performance than the seasonally appropriate fantasy romance A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, First Folio’s production, directed by Hayley Rice, is an amusing romp through the woods, with a talented group of actors who are mostly new to the company. With no particular concept other than taking advantage of the estate’s green environment and some vaguely seventies costumes by Elsa Hiltner, Rice’s Midsummer offers up the classic humor of magically-influenced lovers’ spats and good bad acting in a way that is accessible to newcomers and long-time Shakespeare fans alike.

Johanna McKenzie Miller, Austin England,Dina Monk, James Smart, Rebecca Keeshin, Sydney Germaine, Polly Cooney, Stefan Brundage, and Michael Joseph Mitchell.

Though the cast is mostly young, the show begins with two veterans, Michael Joseph Mitchell and Johanna McKenzie Miller, as Theseus and Hippolyta discussing their wedding plans. Though the marriage was forced, Theseus says he wishes to make Hippolyta happy, but gets distracted when the bitter old Egeus (Gordon Chow) enters with his daughter, Hermia (Sarah Wisterman), complaining that she wishes to marry Lysander (T. Isaac Sherman) instead of his choice of husband, Demetrius (Tony Carter). Lysander complains that Hermia loves him, and that Demetrius has been leading on another woman, Helena (Ali Burch). Demetrius’s momentary look of shock when Egeus demands his daughter be put to death for defying him is one of several small moments Rice adds to the lovers’ scenes in attempts to make them more interesting and palatable to modern audiences, and for the most part, they succeed. Occasionally, the actors in this sub-plot seem to be speaking just for the sake of getting out their lines, and Rice even comments on this at one point by adding melodramatic canned music to one of Hermia’s monologues, which Wisterman delivers with matching exaggeration. But the scene of confusion in Act III which this story exists to deliver is hilarious, enough that Rice leaves it to work on its own.

Titania (Johanna McKenzie Miller) and Oberon (Michael Joseph Mitchell)

Mitchell and Miller also play the fairy monarchs Oberon and Titania, who are feuding over possession of a human child never seen onstage. One of the biggest points of variation among productions of Midsummer is how much independence Oberon’s servant, Puck, has, and in this version, it’s not much. That’s mainly because Mitchell’s Oberon is such a goofy and immature king of shadows that Sidney Germaine’s Puck doesn’t have much to add, and often seems like the calmer, more competent of the two. While this interpretation is textually shaky, Germaine does possess the ideal look, voice, and physical skills and required for Puck’s lightning-fast movements, and the fairy ensemble in general is put through a rigorous movement-and-song routine by Rice and composer/sound designer Christopher Kriz.

Starveling (Austin England), Bottom (Steve Peebles), Peter Quince (Gordon Chow), Snout (Stefan Brundage), Flute (David Gordon-Johnson), and Snug (Mitchell Spencer)

The third sub-plot, surrounding the rude mechanicals, is what allows the play to end on its famous high note. Steve Peebles plays Bottom the Weaver as a genial, unintentionally self-absorbed moron with no real talent or culture. The other, even more oblivious commoners do not think any less of him for this, except possibly amateur playwright Peter Quince, who is also played by Chow as a much more benevolent authority than Egeus. Rice’s staging of Bottom’s interactions with Titania prevents this storyline from going as lewdly as it could, but she holds nothing back from the play-within-a-play, which had the audience rocking with laughter. That is typical of this production: for the most part, Rice doesn’t try to re-imagine things heavily, and those are the parts which work best. There have been several productions associated with the Shakespeare 400 Festival in Chicago which commented on or heavily adapted Shakespeare’s works, and those are good for people who have long been his fans. But for a straightforward production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, First Folio’s Midsummer is a wise pick.

Recommended

Jacob Davis

3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed July 9, 2016

This show has been Jeff recommended.

For more information, see A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 31st St, Oak Brook, Illinois. Performances are $29-39, with discounts for students and seniors. To order, call 630-986-8067 or visit firstfolio.org. Performances are Wednesdays-Sundays at 8:15 pm through August 14. Running time is two hours and fifteen minutes, with one intermission.

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