Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Spending a Midsummer Night in Arden

By Guest Blogger, Mike Logothetis
Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.


This June, the Arden Shakespeare Gild continues its 100-year tradition of homegrown performance with one of the most popular and enduring of The Bard’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While the production was slated to play outside in “The Field,” rain unfortunately moved the show inside Gild Hall on the night of my review. While no essence or execution was compromised, I wish I could have witnessed the sprite-ly fairies dancing in actual grass among the magical woods of Arden. I couldn’t imagine a better setting for this play…honestly!

But inside the cozy confines of Gild Hall, the audience was introduced to the entire cast as the actors entered the theater singing Over The Hills, which is the marching song of the Arden Players. An accompaniment of lute/mandolin and flute offered a musical arm to the production and added depth to certain scenes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream invites the audience into three distinct spheres: An enchanted forest, a noble court in Athens where two sets of lovers prove that “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and the workaday world of a semi-professional acting troupe. In proper Shakespearean style, these three worlds eventually collide with hilarity, wit, and romance.

The play consists of several interconnecting plotlines – linked to a celebration of the wedding of ruling nobleman Theseus (Lee Jordan) to Hippolyta (Jessica Jordan) – and run simultaneously through the outlying forest.

The play opens with Hermia (Emma Orr) being in love with Lysander (Colin Gregory Antes) and resistant to her father Egeus' (Christopher Wright) arrangement to marry her off to Demetrius (Henry Moncure IV). Enraged, Egeus invokes an ancient Athenian law before Theseus, whereby a daughter must marry the suitor chosen by her father or face death. Theseus offers her another choice: lifelong chastity outside of matrimony. Strong-willed Hermia dislikes both options.

In a parallel plot line, Oberon (Lee Jordan), king of the fairies, and Titania (Jessica Jordan), his estranged queen, have come to the forest outside Athens. The mischievous Oberon calls upon “shrewd and knavish sprite” Puck (Kirsten Valania) to help him formulate a magical essence derived from a rare flower. When the concoction is applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, that person falls in love with the first living thing he perceives upon waking. Oberon hopes that he might make Titania fall in love with a beast of the forest and thereby shame her back under his influence. It should be noted that the in-life married couple of Lee and Jessica Jordan have wonderful on-stage presence and chemistry.

Meanwhile, Lysander convinces Hermia to elope, which she confides to friend Helena (Jessica Fields). Desperate to win the love of Demetrius, Helena tells him about the plan and he follows the lovers into the woods with plans of killing Lysander. Not wanting to miss her chance at love, Helena chases Demetrius, who rebuffs her attempts at wooing him away from Hermia.

Secretly observing Demetrius hurling cruel insults at Helena, Oberon orders Puck to spread some of the magical potion on the eyelids of the young Athenian man. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and administers the juice to the sleeping Lysander. Coming across him, Helena wakes him while attempting to determine whether he is dead or asleep. Lysander immediately falls in love with Helena. Oberon sees Demetrius still following Hermia and becomes enraged. When Demetrius goes to sleep, Oberon sends Puck to get Helena while he charms Demetrius’ eyes.

Upon waking, Demetrius sees Helena and now both young men are in avid pursuit of her. However, she is convinced that her two suitors are mocking her, as neither loved her originally. At this juncture, Jessica Fields brings Helena’s confusion and anger to the forefront in several engaging arguments and rants. She started as a subservient maiden, but roared to life as a dominant woman using choice couplets and deft body movements to pull the audience towards her sympathies – a strong performance.

Of course, Hermia is now at a loss to see why her lover has abandoned her. The four quarrel with each other until Lysander and Demetrius become so enraged that they seek a place to duel to prove whose love for Helena is greatest. Oberon orders Puck to keep Lysander and Demetrius apart and to remove the charm from Lysander so Lysander can love Hermia again, while Demetrius will continue to love Helena.

All the while, Peter Quince (Henry Moncure III) and his fellow “Mechanicals” Nick Bottom (Dave Hastings), Francis Flute (Gene Dzielak), Robin Starveling (Sean McGuire), Tom Snout (Tom Wheeler), and Snug (Allan Kleban) plan to put on a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Bottom, who is playing the main role, is over-enthusiastic and wants to dominate others by suggesting he play three key roles himself. Dave Hastings shines in his role of Bottom and steals most scenes he’s in. Quince sets rehearsal for a clearing in the forest. (Where else?!)

At rehearsal, bombastic Bottom is noticed by a hidden Puck who transforms his head into that of a donkey. Titania, having received the love-potion, is awakened by Bottom’s singing and immediately falls in love with him. She lavishes him with the attention of her and her fairies, in which he revels. After some time Oberon releases Titania, orders Puck to remove the donkey's head from Bottom, and arranges everything so Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander will all believe they have been dreaming when they awaken in the morning.

Theseus and Hippolyta arrive and wake the sleeping lovers, who are now properly coupled. Egeus demands and arranges a group wedding in Athens, which would be a perfectly acceptable way to end A Midsummer Night’s Dream; however, Shakespeare gives his audience a good deal more in the form of a “play within the play” performed by Quince’s men.

Back in Athens, Theseus, Hippolyta and the four lovers watch the six actors perform the tragedy Pyramus and Thisbe. The performers are so terrible playing their roles that the guests laugh as if it were meant to be a comedy. The audience in Gild Hall laughed mightily throughout the show, but this micro-play had us all in stitches.

After all the other characters leave, the excellent Kirsten Valania as Puck “restores amends” and suggests that what the audience experienced might just be a dream. If it was, it was a good dream.

Director Tanya Lazar muses: “It is always the language that draws me to a play selection – and A Midsummer Night’s Dream has some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical lines. For instance, Duke Theseus speaks of the ‘lunatic, the lover and the poet’ as one being, and Lysander mourns the loss of his true love with, ‘So quick bright things come to confusion’. I was also drawn to a comparison between Midsummers, a comedy, and Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy. Indeed, the ‘play within the play’ performed by the Mechanicals is a new and often hilarious take on that revered tragedy.”

The cast also included Eric Merlino as Philostrate plus Alexandra Rubincan, Olivia Hayward, Julien Eppler, Sophia Eppler, and Amalia Slattery as assorted fairies. I would be remiss to omit the wonderfully witty and informative call to intermission – read in rhyming iambic pentameter.

This year’s production is a salute to the talented veterans who have performed in Arden for many years and a nod to the next generation of actors who continue this grand tradition.

A member organization of the Arden Club, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is dedicated to including everyone with an interest in Shakespeare, both as audience and as participant. The Gild produces one of Shakespeare’s plays each summer in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater in Arden. Each winter the members direct a Young Actors Workshop for kids from age 6 through high school. The Gild also sponsors lectures, readings, and social activities throughout the year.

Remaining performances are June 22, 23 and 24 at 7:30pm. The shows take place outside at the Frank Stephens Memorial Theater (aka The Field Theater) adjacent to the Arden Village Green. Performances move to Gild Hall in the event of rain. Call 302.475.3126, Mailbox 4 to reserve your tickets or go to www.ardenshakes.com for online ordering. Prices are $12; $5 children 12 & under.

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