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An Enchanting “Midsummer Night’s Dream”

By Erica X Eisen, Crimson Staff Writer

Perhaps fitting for a play that deals so much in dreams, director Mikhaila R. Fogel ’16’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” offered college-age viewers a fantastical glimpse back to their childhood in the ’90s (and its attendant fashion nightmares). The show, which ran through April 20, gleefully mixed high and pop culture, featuring a stage bedecked in glowsticks and a musical tribute to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Though not perfect, the Hyperion Shakespeare Company’s utterly committed performances and campy take on classic theater made for an enchanting show that more than overcame its flaws.

At the center of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a love quadrangle between the Athenians Hermia (Kara E. Roberts ’17), Lysander (Taylor A. Cressler ’14), Helena (Olivia L. Ball ’14), and Demetrius (Kevin T. Wittenberg ’14). When the four wander into the woods at night, they come into the middle of a feud between the fairies Oberon (Katherine E. Moon ’14) and Titania (Emilie G.C. Thompson ’16). Magical meddling in human affairs serves only to stir up further drama. As if two worlds colliding isn’t enough, Shakespeare saw fit to add a third: the forest also plays host to a troupe of actors incompetently rehearsing “Pyramis and Thisbe.” With so many different elements, balance is of the essence. Fortunately, this was something that this rendition largely accomplished.

The performances of the four central actors helped to draw out the play’s themes while never losing sight of its comedy. Prior to being enchanted by Puck, Cressler portrayed Lysander’s love for Hermia as sweet and demure; under the potion’s spell, he drops the doe-eyed look in favor of crude lunges and testosterone-fueled sparring, deftly limning the difference between love and lust, natural and unnatural. One of the most accomplished scenes of the production saw all four Athenians squabbling with each other onstage as the two men, victims of Oberon’s love potion, vie for Helena’s hand. Good blocking and high-energy performances ratcheted up the tension in the scene: Helena flips off Demetrius, Hermia jumps at Helena’s throat, and the men fight each other with a rising intensity that yet at moments has a balletic elegance. The growing violence of the lovers’ behavior underscored the duality of civilization and wilderness central to the play.

The players and the fairies were not to be outdone; among the latter group, the unquestionable standout was Moon, whose Oberon was both imperious and imperial. The smug self-confidence of her characterization made the artificial convention of the soliloquy seem natural—her Oberon is exactly the kind of person who would relish their own cleverness aloud to themselves. And the ragtag band of players provided some of the production’s most enjoyable moments thanks to all-around great comedic instincts. Portraying the talentless ham Nick Bottom, Ari D. Brenner ’14 put his improv-honed comedic chops to good use, rendering what might have been an insufferable character one of the production’s most funny and compelling. Cartoonish costuming by Juliet M. Snyder ’15 and Gina K. Hackett ’15 played up the troupe’s ridiculousness—Brenner was decked out in an eyesore of a tie, and Lelaina E. Vogel ’15 (playing the group’s overworked manager) sported a hairdo heaped high with scrunchies and topped off by a pair of crisscrossed chopsticks.

The production wrung every bit of comedy out of the script that they could, transforming even throwaway lines into laugh-out-loud funny moments. There’s nothing inherently funny, for example, about the bit part of Mustardseed, one of Titania’s gaggle of fairies; in the hands of Deng-Tung Wang ’16, however, lines without any humor in them turn into side-splitters thanks to his exaggeratedly deep voice and stern, deadpan delivery. The part of Robin Starveling (Gillian C. Stein ’15) was given new comedic dimensions thanks to the play’s genderbending; as the only woman among the players (who would originally all have been men), she acted furious at being denied the leading female role of Thisbe. Stein slung one-liners with bitterness worthy of “Daria,” and her frequent swigs from a hipflask (a smart move by prop designer Alice Abracen ’15) were a perfect set-up to her role in the play-within-a-play, Moonshine.

The one false note in the production, however, was in the characterization of Puck (Emily R. Zoffer ’17), who in this telling was more incubus than imp. The conversation between Puck and one of Titania’s followers (Vogel again) at the beginning of Act II featured an atmosphere of bizarre sexual tension totally unbefitting “that shrewd and knavish sprite.” Elsewhere in the play, Zoffer swaggered around the other characters, leering down at them; the transformation of Puck from a childish mischiefmaker into something more like a creepy voyeur (or voyeuse, as the case may be) was an off-putting one, but not enough to sour a production that was so strong overall. The spirited, energetic performances and clever set design and costuming won out, making for a production with far more staying power than any mere dream.

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