Visions shall appear and there will be no need to slumber through this fantastical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company this December. With a vibrant popping of day-glow and neon colors that pay homage to the confused fashions of the ‘90s, this comedy in the Bard’s repertoire is engaging and uniquely twisted. Directed by Kristin Clippard, this mischievously entertaining show is a brilliant representation of how the company continues to grow as it welcomes its first guest director and second equity contract.
Director Kristin Clippard, serving as the show’s Scenic Designer and one of its Costume Designers, lets loose a visual array of whimsical enchantment that unleashes a crackling vibe of mystical fantasy onto the stage in her design work. Umbrellas are a key component in her Scenic Design, overhanging the stage like a forest canopy; a particularly sprightly feel about them as they blink and glow in various colors when mysterious faerie magic occurs (compliments of Lighting Designer Sally Boyett).
Clippard, working with Costume Designer Maggie Cason, infuses the show’s setting of the 1990’s into the actors’ attire in a most unusual and yet uniquely inspiring fashion. The faeries, including the high king and queen, are adorned in bright bursts of orange, lime green, hot pink, and electric yellow. Designed in a way to mimic workout gear these costumes cause the faeries to look eager, anxious and thoroughly energetic, particularly Puck and his extremely vibrant vest.
The use of umbrellas recurs throughout the production, most notably during the second Act when the four Athenians start fighting and they become swords and shields. Clippard’s use of colored powder in this fight scene adds a sense of whimsical frivolity to the fray, making this truly the stuff of which dreams are made. Her overall visual approach to the show is pulsing with a magical current that augments the presence of the faeries throughout.
But the most impressive feat of Clippard’s work is not her costumes or scenic design, but her directorial choice of double-casting. Having the Athenian acting company playing all of the faeries (save for Bottom) is a brilliant move to showcase the duality of magic and the fantastical elements that can be found within us all. This is particularly impressive because not only do the townsfolk double as faerie underlings, but the Duke, his fair fiancée, and grumpy Egeus double as Oberon, Titania, and Puck respectively. This wildly creative decision is creates quite the astonishing layer of symbolism, particularly during the end of the show nuptials when “faerie time” draws near.
Speaking of Bottom (Frank Vince) as the only member of the play’s acting company not to be doubled as a faerie, Vince does receive the chance however to spend time apart from his melodramatic tomfoolery when he is transformed into a braying ass. Vince is thoroughly grounded in the pompous, yet kindly ego of Bottom’s character, even more so once he becomes a creature of Titania’s fleeting fancy. His comic delivery as well as his genuine prideful nature are well spent in this role.
It wouldn’t be a show at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company without a strong sexual undercurrent driving the plot. In this case the four lovers— Lysander (Joel DeCandio), Demetrius (Ben Lauer), Hermia (Amanda Forstrom), and Helena (Ashlyn Thompson)— comprise that group of youthful attractive talent making Shakespeare look sexy. The chemistry between them— be it the sensually desperate urges between DeCandio and Forstrom or the volatile scorn and mockery exchanged between Thompson, Lauer, and DeCandio— is rich and abuzz throughout the production, driving it into its ripe plot twists and exhilarating moments of Shakespearean folly.
DeCandio and Lauer make a pair of doting fools to Helena once Puck has played them silly, and their boastful approach to winning her affections make for a lovely sprinkling of adolescent ardor at its comic finest. It’s Thompson’s fury in full rage trying to rid herself of these two men that really urges the pacing of the second Act into a whirling dervish of riotous interactions; complete with a color powder battle. All four of these performers deliver the Bard’s text with exceptional fluency and clarity— a note that can be said of all the performers in this production— imbuing their text with extreme doses of exact emotion so that even those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s archaic wording and format can still grasp the basic concepts of what’s occurring.
The Faerie King Oberon (Stephen Horst) and his Queen Titania (Lauren Turchin) have a caustic chemistry between them at first, so much so that it makes Helena’s fury look like a balmy April shower. Turchin is a vicious storm of words that pound upon Horst’s ears; dangerous poetry that is fascinating to hear yet dangerous as it flows over her lips. She is calm and commanding, radiating sexuality and power throughout her performance, even when hidden away in a pinstriped pencil skirt and blazer blouse as Hippolyta.
Horst, a bitter entity and charged with a whining anger behind his commands exacts all sorts of revenge and merriment through his servant Puck (Nick DePinto). Keep your eyes on Horst when he first curses Titania, the fluid way in which he moves his body makes him appear truly ethereal, as if he were made of water or faerie dust alone and not an actual human body.
DePinto is the show stealer by far, a ridiculously comic and wildly mischievous imp with a perpetual snicker and skitterish physicality that makes him edgy, naughty, and unearthly all in one scamper of his feet. DePinto possesses a frenetic energy about his person that augments Puck’s faerie nature, constantly in motion even when he’ not in motion. Bordering on maniacal loon, DePinto steals the powder-fight scene in Act II as he creeps about on the floor instigating and watching, all eyes on him for the little gestures he makes, mocking noises, and facial expressions he pulls. There is something mesmerizing and a little frightening about his performance; the epitome of a faerie slave as it were, with a fiery zest rising up from within him to ensure a good time is guaranteed for all.
Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a richly impressive production, particularly where execution of Shakespeare’s text is concerned, and an intriguingly expressive adaptation of set and casting makes this well worth the venture into the faeries dreamland.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through December 22, 2013 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at The Bowie Playhouse—White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.