“One of the most enduring features of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the sense that both the characters and the audience take a temporary journey into the world of the mystical. This otherworldly place, where nature reigns supreme and fairies disregard the stuffy social mores of civilized society, is a welcome retreat from the hum drum of everyday life. Castaways Repertory Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream captures this effervescent quality in an original and satisfying new adaptation that will leave you breathless with the twin spectacles of magic and young love.
Director Leslie Anne Ross chooses to set this production in 1930’s New York. In this rendition, the Duke of Athens, Theseus (played with delicious wize guy machismo by Jon Petersen) is a Prohibition Don who rules New York from his Art Deco roost at the Park Plaza Hotel. The four lovers of Midsummer, Hermia (the wonderful Tara Malaka), Helena (the graceful Francesca Noelle), Lysander (the dashing Travis Carr), and Demetrius (the tall Ian Watson), are children of Mobster privilege, clad in fur stoles and patent leather shoes. Meanwhile, the Fairy King (Oberon, played with great passion by Shravan Amin) and Queen Titania, played by the Audra McDonald-esque Boneza Hanchock), are, respectively, a gambler and former actress, both decidedly down on their luck. Together with their fairy minions, they live in an improvised shantytown in Central Park.
Lysander and Hermia wander in to the aforementioned shantytown to elope (because they love each other), but are followed by Demetrius (who loves Hermia) and Helena (who loves Demetrius). Little do they realize that they’re all four of them walking into a land of Fairies, whose secret weapon, a flower that causes a sleeping person to fall in love with the first living creature he or she sees upon awakening, will create complications for all of them. The chief instigator of this magical hijinks is Oberon’s minion Puck, played with incredible poise and dexterity by the young Patrick Ethan Donovan. Mr. Donovan, who speaks the language of Shakespeare with greater ease than many colleagues who are four times his age, captures the impish spirit of Puck, whose motives are questionable and disdain for humans considerable.
As if all this moonlight madness weren’t enough, Central Park is home to another group of foolish folks this night, the who are here to practice a play they intend to perform the next night at Theseus’ wedding. Although each actor has his or her own moments of comic greatness, the star among them is Nick Bottom (Ryan Dalusung), the flamboyant, self aggrandizing actor who gets turned into an ass at one point. Mr. Dalusung is a comic tour de force, giving his Bottom a flawless Spanish accent that somehow accentuates, rather than obscures, Shakespeare’s language. Making bold and specific choices physical and vocal choices, Dalusung’s Bottom is a major asset to the show.
Both the costume design by Sabrina Chandler and the original score by Bruce Farquharson give CRT’s Midsummer an appropriate jazzy veneer. The set (designed by Leslie Anne Ross), particularly during the long middle of the show set in Central Park, is a nice rendition of a Depression era shantytown, and maintains the supernatural shimmer critical to the show. I question whether the Act I and Act V set, the Park Plaza Hotel, lives up to the standard set by its Central Park counterpart. At my performance, there was also some difficulty in transitioning between the two scenes. However, the nice detail on the shantys themselves (including a great vintage washboard hanging on one of the shacks) probably makes up for these minor deficiencies. Lighting Designer D. Scott Graham deserves credit for creating an imaginative light design with what seemed to me to be a difficult light plot.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the quality of CRT’s production. The age range of the cast was wide, with characters like Theseus, Oberon, and Titania played by adults, the four lovers by teenagers, and most of the fairies by children. The decision to cast people of these ages in their respective “ensembles” seemed intentional, not gimmicky or forced, and created the impression of a total world on stage, a complete picture of a particular universe. There are times when the pace of the show could probably move quicker. But for the most part, Castaway’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is engaging, original, and very funny. It will transport you to the land of gangsters, jazz, and fairies… but only for one moonlit night.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, with one intermission.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through at Castaways Repertory Theatre, performing at the A.J. Ferlazzo Building – 15941 Donald Curtis Drive, in Woodbridge, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the door, by calling (703-232-1710), or by going online.