Fast-paced, whimsical "Midsummer" is a "Dream" for St. Louis Shakespeare
By Michelle Kenyon
Written by Michelle Kenyon
The latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare is one of the Bard's most popular and oft-performed comedies. With a large, lively cast directed by Christina Rios, “A Midsummer Night's Dream” features a few intriguing twists, brisk pacing, and enthusiastic performances. It also features a rustic, whimsical tone that emphasizes the forest locale and updated setting.
One of the great things about this play--and Shakespeare in general--is how adaptable it is to different times, contexts, and settings. This production has a more modern, updated setting, while still being about Athenian nobles and artisans, along with woodland fairies. With a vibrant multi-level set design by Morgan Brennan, wonderfully coordinated costumes by Olivia Radle, energetic choreography by Mary Mather, and superb atmospheric lighting by Erin Riley, this well-paced production maintains the organic, back-to-nature vibe with sprinkles of magical wonder, and a marvelously energetic cast and whimsical comic tone. Modern elements like smartphones are worked into the story seamlessly, and the emphasis on physical comedy and ensemble chemistry adds to the charm of this production.
The story is the familiar one, with several different plots woven together, including the wedding of Theseus and Hyppolyta; the convoluted love square involving Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena; and the mischievous antics of the sprightly Puck, who gets involved in a dispute between the fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania. Then, there's the troupe of artisans who are rehearsing a play for the wedding, including the boastful weaver Bottom, who becomes involved in the hijinks between the fairy royals in a hilarious manner.
The players here are all excellent, and director Rios brings out the best in the talented cast, with energetic staging that adds to the comedy and overall whimsical tone. While having the roles of Titania and Oberon each played by two different performers can be confusing at times, all of the actors are excellent, with Jodi Stockton and Bryce A. Miller as Titania, and Chuck Brinkley and Stephanie Merritt as Oberon, all having their memorable moments. Tiélere Cheatem as the nimble, mischievous Puck is also a standout, along with Ebony Easter and Remi Mark as fellow sprites Peaseblossom and Moth. Also memorable are Mark Kelley as the determined Peter Quince, the director of the play-within-a-play, Riley Stevio as the self-doubting Snug, who plays the lion in that play, and Fox Smith as the highly self-focused, opinionated "Nic Bottom". There's also a particular emphasis on the "mixed-up lovers" plot, with strong performances from Rhiannon Creighton as Helena, Jordan Ray Duncan as Demetrius, Molly Stout as Hermia, and Noah Laster with an especially hilarious interpretation of Lysander. There's a fairly large cast here, with all playing their parts well, and the cohesive ensemble helps to make the fast-paced comedy work for maximum entertainment value.
“A Midsummer Night's Dream” is a classic, and frequent theatregoers may have seen several productions over the seasons. What's excellent about this show is that it makes the most of its setting and story while also managing to make it surprisingly fresh and immediate. With a well-executed creative vision and an enthusiastic cast and creative team, St. Louis Shakespeare has made this production a thoroughly engaging dream of a theatrical experience.
Performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from St. Louis Shakespeare continue at the Robert G. Reim Theater until October 7. For more information, visit www.stlshakespeare.org