By Austin Yoder | Echo
I've never been a huge fan of William Shakespeare. After nodding off several times during a middle school field trip to a local production of "Macbeth," I declared Bill to be too boring and pretentious for my young taste. However, having seen Taylor Theatre's funny and engaging take on "A Midsummer Night's Dream," perhaps it is time for me to give the bard another chance.
Written in the 1590s, "Midsummer" tells a series of interconnected stories leading up to the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, captured Queen of the Amazons.
One of these intersecting stories follows "The Lovers": Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena. These four young Athenians are bound together by love: Hermia and Lysander by their forbidden romance and Helena by her unrequited love for Demetrius, who is betrothed to Hermia.
Another storyline follows a troupe of amateur actors struggling to perform an adaptation of the mythological tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.
The final plotline concerns Oberon, king of the fairies, as he seeks to humiliate Titania, the queen, by enlisting the help of Puck, a mischievous sprite.
Directed by Tracy Manning, the managing and artistic director of Taylor Theatre, the production is a uniquely powerful and immersive experience. Like a dream, it is at times unsettling, hilarious and strange. But, above all, it is never dull. The show is a pleasant assault on the senses, with lights, fog, sound and color working together to create a hypnotic atmosphere.
But it isn't just the visuals that set this rendition of "Midsummer" apart. Some of the roles initially written for men are played by women. Senior Deborah Barnett portrays Petronella Quince (originally Peter Quince), the leader of the troupe, and senior Djamina Esperance plays Robin Starveling. Additionally, both Puck and the fairies are designed and styled to look genderless.
The same amount of attention that went into these details also went into the set-a multi-functional, fanciful forest made up of actual aspen trees, sheer curtains, a moon backdrop and an enormous, ornate chandelier that hangs over the audience. The cast makes full use of the space, often wandering up and down the aisles.
Besides its technical and aesthetic excellence, the show's real triumph is the cast. Featuring more than 30 actors, "Midsummer" was an ambitious undertaking. Thankfully, every member of the cast excels in his or her role, turning what could've been a jumbled mess into a true theatrical gem. The actors expertly handle the wordiness and complexity of Shakespeare's dialogue, presenting the audience with a story that is easy to understand both thematically and audibly.
Ben Klein, sophomore Jenna VanWeelden, junior Andrew Davis and senior Morgan Turner are all effective as the aforementioned "lovers." VanWeelden's passion and Turner's sincerity contribute much of the play's emotional core, while Klein and Davis' playfulness provide many comedic moments.
Junior Sean Sele is an absolute riot as Bottom, an outspoken member of the acting troupe. Sele throws himself into the role, nailing the character's over-the-top nature and accounting for the lion's share of the show's laughs.
Senior Carter Perry and junior Jessica Schulte give solid performances as the king and queen of the fairies, successfully tapping into the mystical sides of their characters. The fairies themselves give perhaps the most committed performances, helping to create the play's atmosphere through their constant noises and movements. I'd be remiss not to give a shout out to the "lifters," people dressed all in black who lift the fairies to give them the appearance of flight.
But it's junior Alexis Colón who steals the show. She is positively mesmerizing as Puck, trickster and faithful servant to Oberon. The physicality and humor she brings to the role are nothing short of remarkable. She sprints, slides, swings and somersaults her way through the performance, commanding attention every time she graces the stage.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is an impressive entry in Taylor Theatre's already astounding library of theatrical achievements. A first-rate technical team and talented cast do justice to one of history's most beloved plays, providing the audience with a chance to completely immerse themselves in the characters' world. This is one dream you might not want to wake from.