There is a cheerful insouciance to the Brave Spirits Theatre production of that war-horse of Shakespeare comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chalk it up to youthful, well-rehearsed nonchalance, with an appealing gender cross-over outlook, and director Jessica Aimone’s deeply personal interest. In her program notes Aimone described Midsummer as a “love letter” to her husband. Fortunate husband.
The three year-old Brave Spirits prides itself on re-looking at Shakespeare through the fresh eyes of a new generation of actors and artistic artisans. It can feed new theater audiences with something to quench their own generational thirst. There is even a kick-ass mission for Brave Spirits; “to tear down the perception of these [Shakespeare’s] plays as proper and intellectual.” That certainly meets the definition of the word of the current moment, “disrupter.”
Given that Midsummer Night is such an often performed, well-known play, let’s dispense with a detailed synopsis of the play. Suffice to say, it is chock-full of misplaced love; young men in heat as rivals; young women with strong views of how they want to live life; characters running off into the woods; magic potions that predate modern hallucinogenic, along with silly fairies and that great fictional theater troupe with wondrous moniker, “Rude Mechanicals”.
The Midsummer Night thirteen member ensemble cast (seven male/six female) are proficient. Many are double-cast. They are also performing in rep with another Brave Spirit production, The Two Noble Kinsmen.
Renana Fox is a high-energy, high-maintenance Hermia. As she gets in touch with her budding nature, she wants what she wants and wants it now. When she jumps into the arms of her suitor, Lysander (played by Ben Lauer), it is with unabashed glee. Amber A. Gibson as Hermia’s foil Helena, is first merely a tall cool presence. Ah, but there is life just waiting to escape; and that it does as she tracks down her own love interest, Demetrius (played by David Mavricos).
Anderson Wells is a delightfully impish Puck. He is one of the more confident actors in the production, with a range of nuanced skills. Jacqueline Chenault and Ian Blackwell Rogers are both double-cast. They are adept as both human royalty and fairy royalty.
The members of the Rude Mechanicals perform with vivid, out-going personalities. They are Jenna Berk (a slacker Lion), Carolyn Kashner (a wall with a cracked persona), Willem Krumich (a tall guy playing in skirts), Zach Roberts (an eye rolling everyman) and Joshua D. Brown as the director of the Mechanicals who does quite exasperation well.
Then there is the donkey-headed Bottom played to a fare-thee-well by Kelly Elliott. The effervescent Eilliott has the clownish inside and outside skills needed to make the role distinctive. She reminded your reviewer of Cyndi Lauper in her very early years, after “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was released.
Some other production points of interest include the un-credited sound design. Preshow music includes nifty tunes to get the audience in the right frame of mind Titles included “Drops of Jupiter”, “Best of You”, and “Freeze Dried Romance” to name a few. The tunes are by an uncredited a capella boy group. During the performance there was a clever use of “White Wedding”.
The set is Spartan; a May Pole covered with long pastel colored ribbons. Each ribbon did get a work-out. Genevieve V. Beller’s nicely accomplished masks were visual markers to show when as actor was in fairy mode. Melissa Huggins’ costumes were appealing representations of humans, fairies, and more. A woven knit cap with donkey ears for Bottom brought appreciative notice from the audience. There were some amusing, earthy double-takes for certain words in the Shakespearean text such as “bosom.” For those of a certain age it engendered visions of Groucho Marx with his magic word of day and a duck dropping down.
Under Aimone’s direction, this Midsummer is a brisk evening of entertainment. With this mounting, the Brave Spirit troupe explores love in a refreshing, lively approach. This production may be most appreciated by those who are “disruptors” in their hearts as The Brave Spirits does it all within the physical confines of the black-box theater at the Anacostia Arts Center.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through December 7, 2014 in rep with The Two Noble Kinsmen at Brave Spirits Theatre performing at the Anacostia Arts Center – 1231 Good Hope Road, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.