Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring Brings a Midsummer Night’s Dream to the HART


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
It takes a lot of courage for a director to tackle Shakespeare, because it is unlikely that anyone will enter the theater with a truly open mind, prepared to enjoy the production on its own merits. Part of the potential audience is prepared to be impressed by the lofty art of The Great Man, and thus willing to overlook a multitude of sins in pursuit of “culture.” Another group (if they enter at all!) harbors the suspicion that Shakespeare’s work is vastly overrated by gullible culture seekers (see above!) and really not worth all of the fuss. A final group, some slightly warped in high school and others fully deformed by college English Lit classes, approach Shakespeare as literature, to be analyzed and dissected over the course of a tortuously long term.

That said, thanks to Director Paul Roder for bringing a thoroughly entertaining production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Hillsboro’s H.A.R.T. Theatre. With the help of a small army (cast, sets, sound, lighting, costumes, make-up, choreography and more) Roder creates a magical and timeless world where fantasy reigneth supreme, and common sense ‘tis but a folly.

In what is arguably Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy, three worlds collide – The Fairy World, The Court of Athens, and The Rude Mechanicals (a troupe of extraordinarily inept actors). Theseus, Duke of Athens, eagerly awaits his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Two young men, Demetrius and Lysander, are both in love with Hermia. Hermia is enamored of Lysander, but betrothed by her father Egeus to Demetrius. Hermia’s friend Helena adores Demetrius and pursues him relentlessly, but to no avail. The Rude Mechanicals are preparing a play to present at the nuptials, in hopes of earning a 6-pnce/day annuity from the Duke. In the meantime Oberon, King of the Fairies, is estranged from Fairy Queen Titania due to perceived mutual infidelities. Young lovers make assignations in the woods while playful Puck prepares potions to punish Titania and realign the star-crossed lovers. Hijinks ensue, and as demanded by the comic medium, everything works out in the end.

The Fairy World is peopled by a charming ensemble of young girls whose enthusiastic flitting, dancing, harp playing, and giggling lead us into the magic of the play. Oberon (Laurence Cox) and Titania (Jody Spradlin) are both veteran actors, able to guide the audience through the nonsensical complexity of their story. Cox does double duty, shifting from Oberon’s masterful presence to Rude Mechanicals buffoon Snug the Joiner. The evening’s liveliest turn is that of Larry Jensen as Puck, whose nimble physical performance and delivery really capture the irrepressible spirit of the role. In this production, Puck has an alter-ego (Justin Campbell as Galmus) whose brooding presence provides a dark counterpoint to Puck’s spritely élan.

The Rude Mechanicals are beautifully cast as a Marxian (Groucho, not Karl) troupe, ironically providing comic relief in a comedy. Jake Beaver merits special mention for his portrayal of Nick Bottom, who is transformed from an egotistical and melodramatic ass to a literal ass, and back again. Another highlight within this lively ensemble is Chris White (Tom Snout), who is truly hilarious playing the wall in the “play within a play.”

 Brian Myers (Theseus) effectively conveys the character’s romantic side, awaiting his wedding night with a bit more eagerness than his delightful Amazonian fiancée (Ilana Watson). The young lovers (Penuel Corbin as Demetrius, Samuel Jones as Lysander, Kelly Brown as Helena, and Olivia Weiss as Hermia) have a lot of fun conveying the unbridled love, lust and frustration required by the sometimes convoluted plot. In particular, Brown and Weiss, each frantic at the prospect of love denied, really convey the difference between the demure Hermia and the bold Helena.

 Once again, H.A.R.T. performs a valuable service, this time by bringing such a likeable and accessible night’s dream to its audience.  Roder and company remind us that Shakespeare’s plays are living theater, fully experienced only when fully staged, rather than dry literary offerings.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at Hillsboro’s H.A.R.T. Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington Street, through April 14th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:00.

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