Review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Aquila Theatre at George Mason University

Last night, Aquila Theatre performed a wonderful version of the classic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at George Mason University’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts. All of the actors (of whom there were seven) portrayed multiple characters. This is one of the joys of Aquila Theatre, which uses minimalist and creative staging, and focuses on dynamite acting.

Aquila Theatre's touring production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' played on March 31 at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. Photo by Richard Termine.
Aquila Theatre’s touring production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ played on March 31 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. Photo by Richard Termine.

If you see Shakespeare often, there is always the chance that insightful production choices will bring a new way to envision a script, and Aquila has done so here with its double-casting. Robert Madeley as Theseus and Oberon, and Andrea Bellamore as Hippolyta and Titania, provide dynamically different ways for men and women in charge to present their power.

Jack Klaff plays Bottom and Egeus, and provides an acting lesson in character development. As Bottom, he used no muzzle, ears, or mask to play an ass, as is often done. Physical and voice work defined such an outrageous character that Titania’s passion for him is ludicrously funny. Oh, the joys of a good love potion. Klaff’s immense vocal range and fearless choices as a ham actor playing Pyramus are a delight.

Other characters whose lives are upturned with the juice from a magical plant are Helena (Harriet Barrow) and Hermia (Lily Donovan), when the objects of their affection, Demetrius (Nicholas Charles) and Lysander (James Donovan) both shift their affections from Hermia to Helena. The resulting chaos is hilarious as the men strike masculine poses, the women fall out of trust with each other, and the group ends up in a tangled mass of writhing bodies that had audience members near me screaming in delight. I offer a shoutout to fight director, Tom Ziebell.

The actors playing these young lovers also take on the brunt of the other characters in the play; all of the fairies and the Rude Mechanicals, who perform the play-within-the-play. Puck is played by both of the young male lovers, so when one of them is in a scene with Puck (who is delineated by wearing a half-mask), they can appear onstage together. It is a lovely trick and allows for many comic moments as actors switch characters in a heartbeat.

The set, designed by Stevie Mackie, is minimalistic, with a 3D fabric backdrop suggesting a forest. Two times, groundcloths are used to suggest the forest floor where the lovers sleep. Once the sleeping characters are tucked under, however, the cloth can be used in other ways, and magic is made with physical acting and engagement of the audience’s imagination.

Aquila Theatre's touring production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' played on March 31 at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. Photo by Richard Termine.
Aquila Theatre’s touring production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ played on March 31 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. Photo by Richard Termine.

Director Desiree Sanchez brings a great deal of joy to the production’s antics. The casting and double-casting proves insightful, and there are appreciative gasps when the audience catches on to the stage tricks being played on them. But it is a play with magical moments and Sanchez “…turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” Mason did well bringing in this strong production by such a talented company as Aquila Theatre.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by Aquila Theatre, performed for one night only, March 31, 2019, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, 4373 Mason Pond Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030. For more information about Aquila Theatre, visit their website. For tickets to other shows in George Mason University’s Great Performances Season, call the box office at 888-945-2468, or visit their calendar of events.

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Chuck Leonard
Chuck Leonard is a professor of theater at George Mason University teaching for the Honors College. He received his MA in Directing from Miami University (Ohio) and later served as Director of Theater for one of Miami’s regional campuses. Chuck has also been the Director of Theater for Episcopal High School in Alexandria and was a mentor for CAPPIES for 4 years. As a teaching artist he has worked with Wolf Trap Institute and Interact Story Theater. His job allows him to follow his multiple passions of teaching theater and keeping active as a director, actor, and set designer.