Scholars have tried in vain to find much meaning in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Instead, they enjoy it for being a charming, goofy play about fairies and love entanglements and guys with donkey heads.
A silly play deserves silly treatment, and the Actors’ Repertory Theatre Ensemble at the Castle Theatre Festival gives it just what it needs, with director Colleen Baum treating Shakespeare’s odd little play like the queer piece of fiction it is.
Our foursome of star-crossed lovers, particularly Hermia (Jennifer Erekson Knudsen) and Lysander (Ary Farahnakian) are giddy and goofy, naive in their love as they follow each other around like puppy dogs, occasionally reciting their dialogue in a sing-songy kind of way that maybe indicates bad Shakespeare-acting, but that is probably just meant to be funny (which it is). They make a fine pair.
The much put-upon Helena (Trish Reading), in love with swarthy Demetrius (Chris Glade), is also excellent, especially in the scene when fairy-influenced Lysander and Demetrius both fall in love with her.
The stage is very busy sometimes — perhaps too busy — but it keeps the energy flowing and the play moving.
Josh Bingham and Liliana Romero play two couples: the mortal Theseus and his unwilling bride Hippolyta; and fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania. Both couples are at odds with each other, making for a nice parallel — better than in many productions, where all four characters are played by different actors.
Romero, in particular, gives more life and spunk to Hippolyta than I have ever seen, even smacking Theseus around a little (don’t worry, he deserves it).
The main scene between Oberon and Titania is inherently dull, as they argue vaguely about some Indian boy or whatever, but these two make the most of it.
The mischievous Puck is played by a woman this time, Tara Tanner, and a pluckier Puck you never saw. Her interaction with Oberon is not tense or blustery, as it sometimes can be — it’s just fun, yet another amusing duo in a play full of them.
Finally, we will mention Deric Nance, who plays Bottom, whom Puck turns into a donkey and with whom Titania falls in love. I’ve seen Nance in a few things, and he has a tendency to play everything so broadly that it’s either hysterical or embarrassing. Here, finally, he has a role where he can be cocky, arrogant, almost deranged — all well-developed elements of his repertoire — but remain in control, without being hammy. It’s a perfect role for him, and he plays it with a restrained-but-it-looks-unrestrained professionalism.
As sick as I am of this play, and as much as I consider it one of Shakespeare's lesser comedies, this production was thoroughly enjoyable, restoring my faith in the notion that good actors and directors can make almost any script come to life if they try hard enough. It also helps if one of them is literally or figuratively an ass.
A very funny thing happened opening night. The Castle Theatre is on a hill overlooking Provo in general, but specifically the Seven Peaks water park. Often, on the weekends, Castle audience members can hear Seven Peaks' loud rock music being played as a quiet (or not so quiet) underscore to the play. Well, during the scene in which Titania and Bottom are cuddling, she asks him if he wants to hear music. And there's silence for a moment, and we all realize that we've BEEN hearing music, and it's the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- probably not exactly what Titania had in mind. It was an amusing moment -- so amusing, in fact, that Lily Romero (Titania) had to try very hard to keep from laughing. (Yes, Lily, I noticed.) We all enjoyed a good chuckle over that one, let me tell you.