“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, William Shakespeare’s oft-produced tale of mismatched lovers lost in a forest of fairies, sprites and changelings, is the opening production for Hartford Stage’s 2017-18 season under the always-creative direction of Darko Tresnjak. I should admit, by this point in my theatergoing experience, I’ve seen enough productions of “Midsummer” to probably now understudy several roles. (The Bard did write over two dozen plays. There must be other choices that theatres could consider!)
Tresnjak’s visual talent has brought majesty and a sumptuous eye to his renderings of previous Shakespearean classics at Hartford Stage like “Hamlet”, “Macbeth” and “Twelfth Night”. The beautifully designed and executed “Midsummer” easily lives up to his past visual successes. Hartford Stage’s ace scenic designer, Alexander Dodge, once again serves up his customary brilliance with a fairy tale setting that resembles the manicured estate of an enchanted castle which then rotates smoothly to create the leafy forest scenes. York Kennedy’s soft lighting enhances the magical mood as does the music by composer, music director and actor Alexander Sovronsky.
This particular production of “Midsummer”, however, works better in parts than as a whole. In the acting company the secondary characters, which include Nick Bottom (John Lavelle, superb) and The Mechanicals, remain the highlights here and their presentation of the comedy’s play-within-a-play, “Pyramus and Thisbe”, is one of the best I’ve ever encountered. Daring the follow-spot to keep up with his antics, Mr. Lavelle, channeling a younger Nathan Lane, seldom takes a breath making the hammiest of Bottoms an absolute delight. The actor also creates something almost poignant, yet still hilarious, when he is magically changed into an ass. It was a great idea by costumer Joshua Pearson to make this transformation with just a simple headpiece, tale and teeth so Lavelle’s expressive face is still able to be seen and appreciated.
The Mechanicals are all terrific with Robert Hannon Davis a most affable Peter Quince and Matthew Macca (Flute), Alexander Sovronsky (Starveling), Brent Bateman (Snout) and Louis Tucci (Snug) all lending able support. It’s a shame their stage time is so limited since there’s a definite lull whenever they’re not around.
This is often in-your-face, endlessly enthusiastic and very loud Shakespeare with long sections that are more frantic than funny. This comes to mind watching the anxious foursome who portray the play’s young lovers: Tom Pecinka (Lysander), Jenny Leona (Hermia), Fedna Laure Jacquet (Helena) and Damian Jermaine Thompson (Demetrius). There’s enough broad acting and sloppy diction from the group to make the various mix-ups between the couples more confusing than they really need to be. Of the four, though, Miss Leona fares better offering the most professional performance. Taking on challenging dual roles are Esau Pritchett (Oberon, Duke Theseus) and Scarlett Strallen (Queen Hippolyta, Titania). The actors are fairly well matched with Strallen, in particular, commandingly sexy in both roles.
There is enough in this “Midsummer” to please most Shakespeare lovers and I would bet that high school students forced to attend might enjoy it even more. As for this viewer, though, how about “Troilus and Cressida” next time?
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” continues at Hartford Stage through October 8. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.