Sunday, May 27, 2007

Midsummer Night's Dream

If you’re going to set a play in a leafy glade, what better stage for it than a leafy glade? It seems impossible that Acme Theater Company is presenting its 25th free Shakespeare in the Park – where has the time gone?

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” staged and directed by David Burmester, is being presented free of charge at the Outdoor Pavilion behind the Davis Art Center. It seems fair to say that in Shakespeare’s day, the performers didn’t have ambulance sirens and skateboarders zipping through the audience to contend with, but the actors handle all the auditory distractions with aplomb. The lack of amplification in the outdoor venue is always a problem and some actors handle it better than others, but it is still an enjoyable production nonetheless.

Every couple of years Acme faces a big turnover in company, where the more experienced actors graduate out of the company and there is an influx of younger, less experienced talent. From the look of “Midsummer Night’s Dream”’s cast, we’re in for a couple of exceptional years as these younger actors hone their skills. Only a couple of the cast of this show are seniors and the rest are 9th, 10th and 11th graders. Heading the list of actors to watch are Delany Pelz as Puck and John Ramos as Bottom.

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.

Acme, which often sets its productions in strange time periods, seems to have chosen no specific time period for this production. Instead, the three groups of characters are color coded. The mortals of the court of Thesius, Duke of Athens (Ethan Jaffee) are all dressed in black and white. The “Rude Mechanicals,” who are rehearsing their play to present to the king all wear pastel jumpsuits, and it is the members of the fairy kingdom who sport the colored costumes. (Tatiana Ray gets credit for costume design.)

The Duke and his bride-to-be, Hippolyta (Kate McFarland) direct the events of the evening, with their request to Philostrate, the Mistress of Revels (Anna Sparrevohn) to arrange entertainment for their upcoming nuptials

Plans are interrupted by the arrival of Egea (Victoria Gimpelevich), a noble woman asking for help in forcing her daughter Hermia (Genevieve Whitman) to marry Demetrius (Alex Kravitz), the husband of the mother’s choosing, though Hermia is in love with Lysander (Brandon Raphael). (Whitman is particular good as the rebellious daughter.)

To further complicate things, Hermia's friend Helena (Vivian Breckenridge) is in love with Demetrius--setting the stage for all of the twists and turns which develop over the course of the story.

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' love.

The mechanics are rehearsing in the woods, under the direction of the carpenter, Quince, a delightful interpretation by Celsiana Warwick. Her four actors are Bottom, Flute (Matt Northup), Starvelling (Julieanne Conard) and Snout (Anthony Estrella). Ramos’ Bottom is expansive, hammy and delightful. Northrup is particularly funny in the female role of Thisbe in the play within a play, while Ali Moreno as Snug is just plain adorable. Anthony Estrella is a solid “wall” with a chink through which the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe communicate and Julieanne Conard makes a good moon under which the lovers die.

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. Delany Pelz is just what the doctor ordered. She is lythe and impish and delights in the tricks she performs.

Emily Tracy is tall and regal as Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, under a spell to fall in love with a donkey. Sean Olivares is her king Oberon, while the fairy band is rounded out by Tatiana Ray as Peaseblossom, Hope Raymond as Cobweb, Hanna Feldstein as Moth and Madelyn Ligtenberg as Mustardseed.

"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. And if a skateboarder happens to roll through the audience at an inopportune time, think of it as one of Puck’s pranks.

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