Spring has sprung, the dogwoods are in full flower, and there’s a truly delicious cat-fight to be had in McLean—take my word for it. Now that the solemnities of the season have been properly observed it’s time to get back to love, enchantment, long nails and the occasional cheap laugh.
McLean Community Players’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, under the able direction of Rosemary Hartman, offers us Shakespeare at his downright silliest. Set in Ancient Athens—John Downing’s simple setting, with columns and ivy galore, is the first clue—we get to follow the fortunes of two pairs of lovers more criss-crossed than star-crossed, and the mayhem that ensues when they sneak out to the suburbs.
(In Shakespeare’s day the suburbs were a lot wilder.)
There are the requisite grown-ups full of boring, sage advice and yadayada; an enterprising bunch of yokels who want to put on a show; and then you have the fairy-tale creatures who, it turns out, are the ones really in charge. Boy, are they ever; just keep in mind that like your average Greek gods, these fairy types can be just as petty and clumsy as anyone else.
Each production of Midsummer has its own charm, and here the spotlight falls on Catherine Gilbert and Ilyana Rose-Davile as Hermia and Helena, childhood BFF’s now on the dating scene and—as always—suddenly forced to compete against each other. Gilbert’s Hermia has to deal with the big existential threat: although she’s madly in love with Lysander (Will MacLeod) she has to marry dad’s favorite, Demetrius (Mytheos Holt), or die (or, well, get thee to a nunnery; same difference). Helena, meanwhile, has to sit back and watch as Hermia is forced to marry the man of her dreams, who just happens to be Demetrius.
The solution? Hermia and Lysander decide to head out to the woods to get a little, erm, privacy. (No, really, they just want to get married. Or something.) Helena, still angling for her old beau Demetrius, reveals Hermia’s plot to him and offers to accompany him into said woods to, um, help him. Or something.
And it’s here, of course, that things get really fun because the king of the fairies, Oberon (Eleanor Tapscott in a rock-solid performance) takes pity on Helena and directs his servant Puck (the charismatic, wonderfully acrobatic Gary Bernard DiNardo) to drop a wee bit of love juice into Demetrius’ eyes so that he’ll fall in love with Helena all over again. Woops. Seems Oberon didn’t get the memo that there were two couples in the woods not one, so instead of happily-ever-after we’re treated to a hilarious chase scene in which the girl who had no beaus at all suddenly has two. This, in turn, leads to a face-off between Helena and Hermia, and Gilbert and Rose-Davila are more than up to the task. (Holt and MacLeod are in pretty good form once they start to fight too, just saying).
The other focal point for Shakespeare’s satire are the Rude Mechanicals, working stiffs with good day jobs desperate to break into acting. (For the money; no really, I’m not making this up.) Matt Bogen as the company’s writer and leader, Peter Quince, tries his best to massage the egos and eccentricities of his cast—an eternal struggle—and of course his job is made hopeless by his leading man, Nick Bottom. Played with relish, and a huge cut of ham, Tom Flatt as Bottom is every bit the charming blowhard, clueless to the last, right down to the cheap yarn beard he wears for his part. David Adler, meanwhile, plays Francis Flute, the sad sack who has to play the ingenue opposite Bottom’s leading man (the challenges involved have to be seen to be fully appreciated). The supporting cast—Robin Starveling (Kirk Kaneer), Tom Snout (Michael Gerwin) and Snug (Heather Plank)—soldier on bravely, and it’s hardly coincidental that when show-time comes they steal the scene constantly from the two leads.
As these hapless dudes work their halting way through their paces—in the woods, where all bad actors rehearse—Oberon and Puck intervene once again. You see, there’s a child-custody battle raging in the fairy tale kingdom, with Oberon’s queen, Titania (the charming Jessie Roberts), refusing to give Oberon an exotic changeling child she has adopted. The solution? Force Titania to fall in love with something as perverse as Nick Bottom, who – for the occasion – has been made into half-man, half-jackass. So not only do we have two pairs of young Athenians in a rage, we now have the Queen of the Fairies herself conned into romancing an aspiring actor who looks like an ass (I leave it to you to decide which aspect is the more hideous).
The festivities wouldn’t be complete without the fairies who attend their royal couple, and Choreographer Victoria Bloom has added several dances, enhanced by Costumer Farrell Ann M. Hartigan’s gauzy threads. Jon Roberts has provided numerous nice touches in sound, everything from birds to swordplay, and Fight Choreographer Carl Brandt Long gives the youngsters plenty of moves.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays weekends through April 30, 2017, at McLean Community Players performing at the Vinson Hall Ballroom – 1735 Kirby Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006, or purchase them online.
For regular fans of McLean Community Players, be advised that because of construction at the Community Center the company is temporarily housed in the ballroom at Vinson Hall off of Kirby Road (see below). MCP has charming staff to guide you from the street to the parking lot and upstairs to the 3rd floor theatre.
And if you have friends who are visually impaired, mark your calendar for the April 23rd matinee, when Metropolitan Washington Ear will provide live audio description of the show.