A Midsummer Night’s Dream
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" contains the three elements that make it a timeless comedic work: magic, mayhem, and mockery. In director Ethan McSweeny's hands, all three elements co-exist perfectly, with whimsical fairies, chaotic fight scenes and lovelorn fools helping balance the multiple sub-plots in the play's most recent incarnation Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall.
The magic is particularly well staged, with the fairies and their king Oberon (Tim Campbell) appearing out of the floorboards, swinging from the chandeliers and balancing upside down. The lighting is also used creatively to create an enduring sense of enchantment for much of the story.
Set designer Lee Savage uses a dilapidated theater as a backdrop to create unexpected merriment, with each nook and cranny containing some unexpected life. As Puck (Adam Green) jauntily leaps from one level of the stage to another, his wild dancing and rock star style are delightfully naughty. Costume designer Jennifer Moeller adorns the cast in memorable fashions, from Titania's lavish gown to the '40s period-piece costumes worn by the mere mortals.
Mayhem ensues when the bohemian lovers, Lysander (Robert Beitzel) a guitar-strumming teen rebel, and his Catholic schoolgirl, skirt clad fiancé Hermia (Amelia Pedlow) escape to the Athenian woods only to be pursued by uptight Demetrius (Chris Myers) and posh Helena (Christiana Clark) in a crazed love-square. The bickering between the lovers is madcap, and grows even more so in a fight scene using wet-paint, full of pratfalls and hysterical brutality.
And the mockery in the performances is pitch-perfect when the play-within-a-play begins, lead by the hammy stage-stealer Bottom (Bruce Dow). He is actually even more hilarious without the adornment of an ass head, as the added costuming compromises his doughy face and extreme gestures. His chaotic rendition of "Pyramus and Thisbe" builds the play to a tremendous comic crescendo.
The only part of the production that was weak is the stiff presentation of Athens royalty Athenian rulers Theseus (Tim Campbell) and Hippolyta (Sara Topham), who also play the fairy king and queen Titania and Oberon.
While it is clear that McSweeny wants to show that these characters live more fully as their magical doppelgangers and are restricted by the expectations of their social class and political rank, the stiff unemotional depiction of royalty (who first appear reading their opening lines from cue cards to staged applause from the media) breaks the otherwise upbeat comedic flow of the story.
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" runs through Dec. 30 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. For tickets or info, call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org