Chicago Theatre Review
A Fairy Nice Evening in the Woods
Short Shakespeare! – Shakespeare Theatre
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
For a play that’s been around since 1595, Shakespeare’s comedy/fantasy about the struggles of love continues to be among his most popular works. Performed everywhere in the world by professional, amateur and educational theatres alike, the play has also inspired ballets, operas, musical compositions, paintings and other plays and stories. But with Spring reluctantly making its way toward Chicago, and Midsummer a long way off, Jess McLeod’s delightful, 75-minute adaptation in the new Yard venue at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, aimed especially for younger audiences, is a welcome promise of warm nights and pastoral adventures to come.
Shakespeare’s play is no doubt familiar to most theatre goers. The comedy weaves together three stories: a quarrel between the king and queen of the fairies, four young Athenian lovers trying to sort out their affections and a group of six rustic actors rehearsing a play for the Duke’s wedding day. All of these plots play out in the forest under a full moon, and are connected through the marriage between Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his lovely bride-to-be, Hippolyta. Complications, of course, arise and provide the basis for this comedy.
In McLeod’s three-quarter-round production the audience is so close to the action that they almost feel like part of the cast. With the aisles utilized for most of the entrances and exits, Lauren Nigri’s gorgeous, romantic scenic design breaks up the thrust stage into several areas. She’s provided multiple levels for play, including steps leading up to a massive, floral-covered arch, lots of greenery and tree stumps and a rocky rill that offers a bed for the Queen of the Fairies. Greg Hofmann’s soft, pastel lighting nicely melds with Nigri’s magical setting, illuminating characters clad in Izumi Inaba’s beautiful period costumes. The cumulative effect is nostalgic and romantic, without ever being indecent or risque.
Ms. McLeod’s production is a series of romances, seasoned by all kinds of challenges and stand-offs with authority. Her talented, 13-member cast is a versatile company, several of the actors delightfully playing multiple roles. Standout performances include Christiana Clark, who opens the production with a beautiful, earnest welcome to the young theatergoers. She also stars as a lovely, eloquent Hippolyta, as well as a lusty, strong-willed Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Ms. Clark’s closely matched by the always wonderful Sean Fortunato playing Duke Theseus, as well as Titania’s revengeful Fairy King companion, Oberon. Initially in the role of Philostrate, the Duke’s humorous attendant, Travis Turner sharply catches the eye and ear as an athletically agile fairy, the prank-loving Puck.
As the loving mortal couples, petite Faith Servant makes a saucy and spirited Hermia; Ally Carey is stunning, sparkling and statuesque as Helena; handsome Christopher Sheard creates a fine Lysander, at first reticent and polite, but who eventually finds his verve and voice in the forest; and Andrew L. Saenz is a determinedly devoted and caring Demetrius.
Resolved to perform a polished entertainment for the Duke and his lady, the “Rude Mechanicals” are all delightful. Adam Wesley Brown leads the troupe as a likably bumbling Bottom, cast as a verbose Pyramus in their play; and Lane Anthony Flores is hilarious as amateur actor Flute, selected to play the lady Thisbe. Richard Costes is a comical Snout; Jarrett King plays an officious Peter Quince, the troupe’s playwright and director; Drew Shirley is humorous as Starveling; and Hannah
Starr, as Snug, is especially fun as a less-than-terrifying lion.
All of Ms. McLeod’s actors are superbly trained, articulate and understand that in Shakespeare, especially for younger audiences, “the story is the thing.” They not only create strong, identifiable characters, they skillfully paint Shakespeare’s picturesque images with words, body language and movement.
Often thought to be Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre offers an adroitly adapted, humorous and highly entertaining production within the Yard’s more intimate theatre venue. Fine direction, excellent acting and superior technical support make this enchanting, romantic comedy even more alluring and magical. Hearing the Bard’s delectable poetry spoken with such clarity and with complete understanding is a real treat, not often found in classical productions these days. And, if that weren’t enough, Jess McLeod’s production will remind audiences that romance and some much-welcome warm weather is just around the corner.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, for the public, twice each Saturday, February 3-March 10, at the Yard, on Navy Pier.
Tickets are available in person at the CST box office, by calling 312-595-5600 or by going to www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.