Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Midsummer Night's Dream

The Department of Theatre and Dance's production of Shakeseare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which opened May 22 on the university's main stage, is loud and raucous and energetic. Even before the action officially begins, fairies appear, frolicking on the open stage. They give a hint of the fun and wimsey which will follow in Shakespeare's dreamlike venture into the world of magic.

The play tells several stories, each of which occurs during a single summer night in a magical forest outside Athens, in which fairies play pranks on lovesick mortals, earnest youths endure comical romantic confusion, and a group of mechanics attempts to rehearse a play in secret.

Directed by Peter Lichtenfels, Granada Artist-in-Residence (whose last outing at UCD was the controversial "Romeo and Juliet"), this production seems to be set in no specific time or location, as modern dress mixes with more traditional garb, but all somehow blending together to produce the fabric of the magical world in which all the characters interact.

Ammar Mahmood and Christine Lowery, as Thesius (the Duke of Athens) and Hippolita direct the events of the evening, with their request to Philostrate (Simon Zenon) to arrange entertainment for their upcoming nuptials.

Plans are interrupted by the arrival of Egeus (Kevin B. Lee), a nobleman asking for help in forcing his daughter Hermia (Cooky Nguyen) to marry Demetrius (Drew Hirshfield), the husband of his choosing, though she is in love with Lysander (Ryan Perkins-Gangnes). To further complicate things, Hermia's friend Helena (Shahnaz Shroff) is in love with Demetrius--setting the stage for all of the twists and turns which develop over the course of the story.

Nguyen was last seen in in a minor role in last year's undergraduate festival and stood out for making the most of a small bit. The promise she showed in that production has more than been fulfilled in "Midsummer Night's Dream." She is a delight to watch, as is Perkins-Gangnes, who also was notable for his small role in the undergraduate festival.

Hirshfield turns in another bravura performance as Demetrius.

Hermia and Lysander flee Athens into the woods, intending to be married at the home of his aunt. They are followed by Demetrius, determined to win his bride's hand, and Helena, determined to win Demetrius'.

D. Martyn Bookwalter has designed an abstract sort of forest, with cloth-covered wood frames, painted to give the hint of leaves. They provide a good hiding place for fairies or would-be suitors. A large moon hangs in the sky and moves about during the various scenes, presumably to indicate various time periods, though it is so subtle that it is difficult to pick up what each moon position means. However, the lighting design by Darrell F. Wynn makes for lovely moon reflections.

The mechanics are rehearsing in the woods, under the direction of Peter Quince, a delightful interpretation by Chris Allison. His four actors are Nick Bottom (Phillip Tarver), Francis Flute (Joel Rentner), Robin Starvelling (Erica Filanc) and Tom Snout (Chelsea Kashin). Tarver is outstanding as Bottom, who is full of advice and self-confidence but frequently makes silly mistakes and misuses language. The humor of his role is accentuated by sound designers Leslie Rae Smith and Y.C. Sumnicht, who see to it that he clanks when he walks.

Sound is not always entirely pleasing in this production, and some seems to be unnecessarily ear-splitting. There is, for example, a thunder and tempest caused by an argument between Oberon, the king of the fairies (Mischa Random Pollack) and his queen Titania (Linda Noveroske Rentner).

No production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" would be effective without a solid Robin Goodfellow ("Puck"), Oberon's jester, a mischevious fairy who delights in playing pranks on mortals. Sam Tanng is just what the doctor ordered. He is lythe and impish and, clothed from head to toe in red (including body make up, it's difficult to take your eyes off of him when he is on stage.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a delicious piece of merriment, and a nice diversion on a warm summer's evening. Take the night off and go romping in a magical forest with a bunch of fairies.

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