“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 

--Irene Backalenick

Once more there’s magic on the grounds of the old American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford! Shakespeare has returned (for the moment, at least) to his old stamping ground -- Shakespeare on the Housatonic River!

And indeed Ellen Lieberman, Producing Artistic Director of Connecticut Free Shakespeare, has brought the old ghosts back. This season the company is offering “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” first in Stratford and then on the historic McLevy Green in downtown Bridgeport. (Check for dates.)

Launched on the old Festival grounds, one can almost feel Morris Carnovsky, Katherine Hepburn and other stars of the past hovering benignly over the production.           Lieberman makes the most of the setting. As the light fades through the trees, the fairies, Athenian youths, and rude mechanicals take over. And one is again transported to the enchanted woods where anything can happen.

It is indeed a joyous romp, beautifully choreographed by Eric Nyquist. Lieberman, who has also adapted the play, directs her large cast with a sure hand, from the stately Titania (the delicious Saluda Camp) down to the littlest fairy. Every scene slides smoothly into the next. Each group comes on and off stage, never missing a beat. The musical back-up (courtesy, again, of Nyquist) enhances each scene, but never drowns out the dialogue.

The cast is, in fact, first-rate, but best among equals are -- not only Camp -- but Nyquist himself as Puck, Jonathan Holtzman as Oberon, and, among the Rude Mechanicals, Uma Incrocci as Peter Quince and Ian Eaton as Bottom.

For any one not familiar with the story, “Midsummer” is meant to be the celebration of Theseus, Duke of Athens, who is about to be married to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. But all is not smooth running. There are with marital mix-ups and marital battles -- both mortal and magical. As the four Athenian youths struggle with their problems, they are posed against Oberon and Titania, the sparring king and queen of the fairies.

Throughout the night, mortals race about the woods, both thwarted and aided by the fairies. But this is not a Shakespearean tragedy, and we can be sure of a happily-ever-after ending. All mix-ups will be resolved, and Jack will have his Jill.

More seriously, Connecticut Free Shakespeare has yet to find a permanent home, and the old Shakespeare Festival Theatre is yet to be restored. Would that two problems could be resolved as one -- that this excellent company could be properly -- and permanently -- ensconced at the old Festival location. That would be truly a happily-ever-after ending!

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