James Hubert Blake High School reached new heights with their electrifying production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From a performing arts high school you would expect no less, but in this engaging production, Blake took a modern twist on a Shakespearean classic.
Blake has a knack for taking popular Shakespeare texts and adding a little something extra, as was evident in their production of Hamlet last spring that was set in 2043. But this production served as a step forward in artistic thinking by creating a more engaging and inviting tone that had the audience and myself on the edge of our seats.
Under the able direction of Michael D’Anna and the technical wizardry of John Ovington, Shakespeare’s epic fantasy was transferred to modern times as evidenced by the costumes, settings, and special effects utilized in the production.
The play takes place in several locations lending itself to different interpretations. It begins with a brief but commanding entrance and exit of Puck, played brilliantly by Victoria Nelson and Allie Halleck, and then transfers to the wedding of Theseus and Hyppolyta. Blake is known for having elaborate sets in their productions that will either move off or have another piece move on to signify a scene change.
In Midsummer a different route was taken. One set was utilized for the entirety of the show. The set provided many levels for the actors to take advantage of and provided more intricate choices in terms of blocking. And with a majority of it being colored purple and blue a royal and empowering presence was placed on all the dominant characters.
In order to signify a change in scenery detailed drops were used, which cleverly kept everyone in the allusion of the play instead oft taken out of it when seeing students push on sets. The drop transferring the scene to the woods came across perfectly with moons, forests, and streams reflected on it.
Each technical aspect of the play lent itself to create a better understanding of the show and what it was trying to accomplish. Along with the set the lighting, presented by Darius Williams, reflected soft purples and bright blues correlating with the plot of the show.
The costumes were plotted out for each scene though the instruction of Tess Maltagliati. Beginning with the wedding where characters were presented in sparkling yet modern dresses with my only complaint being for the Amazon Queen Hippoylta to have more accessories reflecting her Amazonian roots. When the scene changed to the forest the hiking gear Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander sported were an excellent addition to the modernized theme.
The mechanics representing the theatrical union probably had the most straight forward costume, with plaid shirts and denim overalls the actors were clearly able to convey who they were portraying. I did wonder if anything was going to be done to the fairies to makes them stray from how they’ve always looked, but Blake dazzled us again with glimmering tights, white fluffy tutus, and bright headpieces that not only contributed to the understanding of the show but were wonderful to look at.
Along with the high school fairies there were boys and girls brought in from middle and elementary school to play fairies and groundlings. The point of having to extra bodies was unclear to the audience. Maybe to make the Faire Queen’s army look bigger? Or to add a different age to the group? Nevertheless it didn’t hurt the production. Rather the kids were so adorable you had many audience members saying, “Aww!”
Music was another aspect of the show contributing to the modern theme. With ABBA to represent the fairies and Queen to represent Oberon and Puck among other 70s artists, it allowed opposition between the two to be present in not only their words and actions but through disco and rock and roll’s friction.
With music comes dance and there were plenty of dance numbers to convey the attitude of the characters. Choreographer Colby Potts added a variety of dances for the fairies and cast to enhance the modernized story telling. Especially with the disco numbers for Titania’s band of spirits, which stays true to the original Shakespearean production where Titania occupies the dancing. Although at times in this production there was so much dancing I could practically predict when the next one would occur, which took out suspense but added joy because of seeing how happy each person was while dancing onstage. The energy itself made up for the repetitiveness.
The actors are up to the challenge led by LJ Enloe who doubles as both Theseus and Oberon, the King of the Fairies. A shimmering mask that gives off green and red lights for Oberon adds to separating the characters. Enloe shows off a brilliant brass voice as the jealous Oberon. Set against him is the power Titania, played by Keren Mir (and Colby Potts on alternating nights). Both characters commanded the stage with the presence the character required and demonstrated an impassioned delivery of poetry, but this being Keren Mir’s first big role it was taken seriously conveying a stand out performance that is sure to be remembered.
Elizabeth Iduma stood out as Hermia, as Niara Smith’s Helena is a hilarious force as she chases after Demetrius who treats her “like a spaniel.” Jacob Proctor as Demetrius and Sam Gretizer as Lysander are comedically amazing with the demands of the physical acting and interchangeable lines they throw at each other in pursuit of women. Julian McConnie, was also double-cast as Lysander gave an entertaining performance but seemed more comfortable when playing the mechanic Flute.
The mechanics were a hoot. Nicole Granados plays Peter Quince perfectly causing laughs among the crowd through her aggravation towards Nick Bottom and hysterical gestures.
My favorite performance of the night was Austin Gill as Bottom the Weaver. A real charmer, he plays the arrogant and boisterous weaver as an unchained egomaniac who wants to play all the roles in the reenactment of Pyramus and Thisbe. He gets a chance to do this in the rehearsal scenes inpthe show and slides effortlessly into a smashingly funny character. His death scene left the audience as well as myself roaring in laughter.
The cast exhibited a clear and present understanding of Shakespeare’s poetry and prose in the play. Director Michael D’Anna’s staging put energetic physical acting into the play. The combination of effective script analysis coupled with physicality enabled the actors to hit their marks scene after scene.
The show transferred well because of the many technical elements of the show coordinated by John Ovington. The drop was able to incorporate a disco theme as well as a series of translucent circles (or moons) that allowed projection designer and sound technician, Jeremy Dowling, to present various moving images through the drop to enhance every scene. Shown most effectively when the cast marches a transformed Bottom (from man to ass) to Souza’s Stars and Stripes Forever! The backdrop projected fireworks throughout the five moons of fabric. What a great way to end an act!
Blake’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream shined brighter because of the energy and effort put forward by the cast and technical aspects of the show, demonstrating to the world that taking a different take on a brilliant work can be just as impactful and quite entertaining as well.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream played March 11-19, 2016 at Blake High School — 300 Norwood Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For future production, go to their website. Learn more about their theatre department here.