Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer CollageAs the blistering zephyrs and unmerciful precipitation of a Central New York winter loom on the horizon, Players of Utica invites us to indulge a warmer, more verdant atmosphere one last time before 2017 lies forever in the annals of history.

One of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” presents the stories of four lovers and a band of amateur actors and both groups’ interactions with fairies in a forest as the marriage between Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, draws near.  It is a tale of love and its many faces – and one that challenges how we reconcile reality with imagination.

Upon entering the playing space and receiving my playbill, I noticed the proud, marbled architecture of an Ancient Greek throne room juxtaposed with a vibrant, cerulean forest complete with a towering, glistening, well-rooted tree and other flora.  As I humbly wended my way to a seat in the back row of an already-packed house, my hand touched not the shivering steel of a handrail, but instead the leaves and vines and tendrils that grew upon it.  I had nearly forgotten that I was sitting in a black box theatre.  Had the evening’s affair consisted of nothing but admiring Scott Zahas’ and Cathy Mosher’s masterpiece of a set, I would have been perfectly content.

“Midsummer” is one of the Bard’s most oft-mounted plays, and its unrelenting popularity has moved directors to implement gimmicks and absurd themes in order to “give a fresh take” on the piece (like a circus).  Director Joni DePerno-Zahas’ “Midsummer” is, more or less, played straight; it is indeed set in Ancient Athens and a magical wood, and all the Athenians wear togas.

Music and dance sections flow seamlessly and do not distract from the action, but rather they enhance it.  What better way to introduce us to the fairy world than to show its inhabitants dancing brightly and playfully?  In another dance scene, the window of Helena’s mind is opened and we voyeuristically watch her romantic fantasy unfold, and thereby we understand better her fiery love for and frustration with the unreciprocating Demetrius.  One must remember that song and dance were very common devices in the “straight plays” of Shakespeare’s day.  They often helped advance the plot in much the same way musical numbers are core elements of the musical of our era.  Jessica Kaczor’s choreography is not to be viewed as petty diversions; it is an integral part of this production and is executed well.

One of the most commonly cited deal-breakers for theatre-goers who recalcitrantly refuse to attend Shakespeare is the dense, verbose and poetic language.  Allow me to assuage the prejudices of the estranged when I assert that there is an evident strong grasp of Elizabethan parlance in this production.  Each actor speaks his lines so confidently and genuinely that they might as well be speaking plain English.  Everyone in the audience is fully privy to plot details and, if the recurring laughter of my evening’s crowd is any indication, can appreciate the jokes.  This intelligibility is no easy feat and is a testament to the importance of suiting the action to the word as well as putting the stress on the right word.  It is irrefutably the mark of sound direction (and clever line-cutting).

I walked out of the black box performance space at 10:00 sharp, giving the performance a crisp and tidy run-time (by Shakespeare standards) of two and a half hours, including an intermission.

Players of Utica’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs for three more performances: this Friday the 16th, Friday, the 17th, and Saturday, the 18th, at 7:30 pm, and a matinee Sunday, the 19th, at 2:00 pm.  Tickets can be reserved by calling the theatre at 315-724-7624 or by visiting the website www.players.ticketderby.com.

REVIEWED BY: Joseph Scott

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