A Midsummer Night’s Dream
‘Here is a play fitted’—for fun!
|Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents|
|A Midsummer Night’s Dream|
Review by Clint May
Not since Pirates of Penzance on the Tall Ship Windy have I seen such a delightful confluence of time, place and production. Courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater—now in its third year bringing the Bard to Chicago parks—A Midsummer Night’s Dream is in some ways closer than the Globe-style theatre at Navy Pier to the spirit of the original context. The free show is the ultimate egalitarian way to enjoy a work that hilariously lampoons the Elizabethan one-percenters. Against a setting sun, children frolic like so many untethered faeries while people of all ages relax, picnic, and enjoy a timeless crowd pleaser. What could be better?
Returning to the park production scene, David H. Bell ups the ante on the inherent carnivalesque qualities of Dream, which helps translate the show to project further with its increased physicality and larger-than-life interpretations. Given the massive size of the audience at my performance at Loyola Park, it’s essential to eliminate subtlety in favor of the blatant. Almost ponderously well-elucidated pronunciation and exaggerated (read: broad) acting may not go over well with Shakespeare snobs, but it’s actually the perfect farcical fit for the material. Paced at breakneck speed and winnowed to 90 minutes, the breathless energy doesn’t overstay its welcome (or the attention span of tots).
Few shows inspire eclectic wardrobing as much as Dream, and Melissa Torchia’s costumes are no exception. Women clad like millworkers of the Industrial Revolution, men in pompous military or yuppie garb, and one of the most oft used treatments for the fairies: deconstructed leather vis-à-vis Mad Max (there’s something inherently dominant and submissive about Oberon and Puck that costume makers love to point out through S&M subculture allusions). This kind of anachronism highlights the profound distortion of Nature that occurs when fairy royalty has an argument.
Subdivided, each storyline set is tweaked for modern audiences. Ladies Helena (Amanda Catania) and Hermia (Tiffany Yvonne Cox) are sassier, the male suitors Demetrius (Ryan Hallahan) and Lysander (Ryan Imhoff) are more puffed up and metrosexually foppish, and the mechanicals are a band of lovable dude-bros. Lanise Antoine Shelly gives her Titania an Eartha Kittian sensuality, while Bernard Balbot creates the hammiest Bottom I’ve yet seen. Puck (Steven Lee Johnson) gets to break the fourth wall and go a bit meta, running into the audience to borrow sunglasses or create impish trouble. Even Thisbe (Wesley Daniel) gets turned into the drag queen ‘she’ is. It’s a vaudevillian Jerry Springer meets iambic pentameter, and all the more lively and fun for it.
In my non-meteorologist opinion, there haven’t been a lot of “must go to the beach” days in this summer of temperance, making movies and theater in the park a great alternative if you need some frugal fun in the not-so-summery sun. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has everything it needs going for it and more than you might expect from free theatre. There’s even a concert to open the show courtesy of bands local to the nearby parks. This relatively new effort by Chicago Shakes and its partners is a real gift to the residents of Chicago and beyond.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through August 17th at various Chicago parks (map and schedule), with performances Tuesdays through Saturdays beginning at 6:30pm, and Sunday performances at 4pm. Admission is FREE. More information at ChicagoShakes.com. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Chuck Osgood
Bernard Balbot (Bottom), Amanda Catania (Helena), Justin Cornwell (Starveling, Fairy), Tiffany Yvonne Cox (Hermia), Wesley Daniel (Flute, Fairy), Max Fabian (Snout, Fairy), Michael Finley (Snug, Fairy), Don Forston (Egeus, Quince), Ryan Hallahan (Demetrius), Nathan M. Hosner (Oberon, Theseus), Ryan Imhoff (Lysander), Steven Lee Johnson (Puck, Philostrate), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Hippolyta, Titania)
behind the scenes
David H. Bell (director), Scott Davis (scenic design), Melissa Torchia (costume design), Ethan Deppe (composer, sound design), Melissa Veal (wig and make-up design), Angela M. Adams (production stage manager), Ross Lehman (verse coach), Chuck Osgood (photos)