WHEN FACTUAL and fantastic collide, the explosions are dreams. Sleeping, we press desire against frustration, seeking resolution. When we fail--when dream replaces desire as the engine of imagination--we cross the fine line between dream and nightmare. The Adams-Quincy production of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes this distinction as a central tension. With slapstick played against the sinister, the result is at once amusing and alarming.
The differing approaches of directors Rik Engelhardt and Laura Shiels are clear, so much so that the play almost becomes two works performed side by side. The first is an insinuation of the evil, suggestive elements of the play, the second a warm and spirited lunge for the comic and humane. The opening and closing scenes, and the dance sequences, bear the brunt of this first approach. The balance of the play, particularly the mischief of Puck, the play-within-a-play, and the scenes between the four lovers are superb, carefully crafted instances of the second.
As the play opens, the Athenian courtiers strut about the stage like so many automatons, suggestive of "a timeless urban environment," as the embarassingly pretentious program notes put it. Hermia and her lover Lysander wish to be married, against the will of Egeus, her father, who wants Hermia to marry Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander decide to leave Athens and be married in the woods outside the city. Helena, a friend of Hermia, learns of her plans and tells Demetrius, knowing he will follow Hermia into the woods where Helena hopes to seduce him. The four flee restrictive-but-orderly Athens for the woods, where the fairies, ruled by Titania, and Puck, assistant to Oberon, gallivant with one another and trick the mortals with magic herbs.
Once in the fantastic wood, the balance of dream and nightmare, and the corresponding balance of the two directorial approaches, becomes evident. The second act opens with a fairy dance, choreographed by Cynthia Raymond. As dissonant, atonal music fills the room, dancers gyrate on stage, suggestively entwined. This sequence, no doubt intended to lend an erotic and Dionysian flavor to the production, never fully involves the audience; it is contrived and artificial.
But the scenes that follow--the introduction of Puck, the quarrel of Titania and Oberon, and the bumbling of five Athenian workmen rehearsing a play in the woods--are gems of acting and direction. In fact, the acting in this production is without exception good. Dan Breslin gives an outstanding performance as the hyperenergetic, cackling Puck, flawlessly capturing the playful and devilish facets of Puck's mischief. Teresa Barger as Hermia and Joanna Blum as Helena are very much the respectively sought-after and frustrated lovers, and vice-versa. Anne B. Clarke as Titania fairly wafts across the stage. Tim Reuben is an appropriately ponderous Theseus, and Jeffrey Rothstein, struggling valiantly with a wrinkled, Bozo-esque bald-cap, nevertheless succeeds as the crabby, meddling Egeus. All five of the Athenian workmen-turned-actors give good performances, but David Anderson as the bellowing, overeager Bottom deserves special notice. It is easy to play this role as pure slapstick. Anderson goes beyond mere egotism and develops Bottom as a buffoon--grabby and self-centered, but well-meaning, without snobbery and pretensions. We get the feeling that if Bottom was accused of his faults, he would stand befuddled, wondering, Me? You can't mean Me? He is a consummate ass.
The directors clearly stressed diction, for the actors speak with great precision, making this easier to understand than most undergraduate productions of Shakespeare. But Monica Bachner as Hippolyta is too mechanical in her delivery, sacrificing inflection for clarity. Tim Sellars plays Hermia's lover Lysander well, but is handicapped by his boyish cuteness. Sellars looks too much the blonde California surfer. He delivers his lines with feeling, but we can't help thinking that if Hermia threw him over, he'd just as soon hop into his dune buggy and cruise down the beach until he found a new place where the kids are hip.
There are some technical problems. Too much action, dancing in particular, takes place at stage level, where it is invisible to all but the first three rows. Some scenes are unimaginatively lit--the stage is flooded with light during a few forest scenes, when shadows and odd lighting angles, suggestive of the fantastic, are in order. Robert B. Sirota's otherworldly music, appropriately evocative for the dance sequences, is distracting when it plays over dialogue.
BUT COSTUMES are colorful, and the makeup is original and eye-catching (particularly for Oberon). The sparse set, consisting of a parallelepiped with a net draped diagonally through it, is used imaginatively throughout the play.
In short: see it. Ignore the program. It's a good production of a great comedy. The attempts to evoke the sinister do not quite succeed, because they interrupt rather than support the play's flow. They are too contrived, and we cannot accept them for long enough to have them scare us. But if you're looking for good acting, directing, and production, you can't go wrong.