By the time you get to the end of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed with a by-the-numbers sensibility by Russell Treyz, you may have forgotten that most of the show really wasn’t all that good.
For the last act, in which the workingmen of Athens present their “Pyramus and Thisbee” play for the Duke’s wedding, is full of madcap humor and lunacy — the same kind of impassioned zaniness you’ll wish the rest of “Midsummer” had had, too. You may walk away thinking the whole thing was funny, when really it was just the last act.
The first four acts are light on humor, but when it does come, it comes with a sledgehammer attached to it. The third-act scene in which fairy-world intrusions have caused both Lysander (Gregory Ivan Smith) and Demetrius (Tim Redmond) to love the formerly hated Helena (Maren Maclean), much to the dismay of Lysander’s girlfriend Hermia (Didi Doolittle), is like a tiresome cartoon. There’s nothing but broad, uninspired slapstick, the show almost begging us to think it’s funny: “Please laugh! Look, a guy just fell down! Look, two guys accidentally kissed each other! It’s funny!”
Shakespeare’s script leaves it up to the production to determine who the main character is. This one sort of chooses fairy king Oberon (Ty Burrell) and his quasi-naked whipping boy Puck (Eduardo Rioseco), both played with animal-like agility and demeanor but with little flair otherwise.
The stand-out is Jay Russell. As Bottom — the weaver-turned-actor-turned-jackass — he minces about with slap-worthy over-confidence … yet you really like him. When he is changed back into a human again, he seems to have learned something during his stay in the fairy world. He is the only character in the entire play to exhibit anything other than a static personality.
Russell is also genuinely funny throughout, rising high above the lame antics of the four lovers, for example. His fellow mechanicals — Quince (Russ Benton), Flute (Brent T. Barnes), Snout (Matt Ramsey), Snug (Michael Fitzpatrick) and Starveling (Paul Hope) — work together to create a great ending to a mediocre show, with Snug’s performance as a lion and Snout’s turn as a wall being particularly amusing.
Their scene has slapstick, too, but with a difference: These guys are good at it, and it doesn’t seem forced or cloying.
Except for these few great performances and an imaginative costume design (Madeline Ann Kozlowski) and set design (Charles O’Connor), this “Midsummer” seems factory-assembled, slapped up on the stage with only moderate enthusiasm and minimum originality. If you’ve seen any other production of “Midsummer,” you’ve seen this one, too.
Having performed in a production of this play just a few months earlier, I was intimately familiar with the script. I did not, however, have too many preconceived notions about how the show should be staged; I was never entirely sold on the way we did it in my production, so if someone wanted to do it differently, fine with me.
The problem was, this one just wasn't funny. It tried hard to be -- too hard, in fact, and that's what killed it. The production I was in was funny, especially the parts where I wasn't onstage.