A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Review by Tom Nissley

There’s a perfectly beautiful production of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” playing at Hartford Stage, directed by Darko Tresnjak. As most followers of the bard are aware, the play celebrates the mysterious communication between the hidden world of spirits and sprites and the real world of us humans that is enabled by the turning of the seasons on Midsummer’s Eve – a moment so magical that the separations that keep each side distinct otherwise are lifted and we humans and they faeries can exchange feelings freely. For just this night, then, anything can happen. And it does.

The Duke of Athens, Thesius (Esau Pritchett), and Queen Hippolyta (Scarlett Strallen) are to be married. It’s not a love match, but a political one, but there will be a great celebration, and members of the Duke’s household, his secretary, Philostrate (Will Appicella), and housekeeper (Anne O’Sullivan) are preparing the estate for it. Meanwhile Egius (Robert Hannon Davis) has dragged his daughter, Hermia (Jenny Leona) before the Duke to complain that she has not agreed to marry Demetrius (Damian Jermaine Thompson). Hermia prefers Lysander (Tom Pecinka), and for that matter Demetrius prefers Helena (Fedna Laure Jacquet). Faced with rigid parental authority and equally rigid Athenian law, the youngsters scheme to run away into the next kingdom, where they hope that they can marry as they wish.

At the same time, a group of tradesmen who have a small acting club are preparing a masque for the Duke’s wedding day. They, too, are off to the country for a private rehearsal. The players (Robert Hannon Davis, Matthew Macca, Alexander Sovronsky, Brett Bateman, Louis Tucci, and John Lavelle, who plays the character of Nick Bottom) meet for their rehearsal. The young lovers arrive in the countryside. It is Midsummer’s Eve, and the King – Oberon (Esau Pritchett) and Queen – Titania (Scarlett Strallen) of the Faierie World, are having a fight. Oberon, intent on embarrassing Titania, send Puck (Will Apicella) on a quick trip around the world to find a magical flower that will cause anyone who breathes its pollen to fall madly in love with the first person they see upon waking.

Unintended consequences: Apicella, who is a beautiful and energetic Puck, gets the pollen into the wrong eyes and noses, so that suddenly Demetrius wants Hermia, and Lysander wants Helena, and poor Titania desperately loves Nick Bottom (LaVelle) who has been turned, by Puck, into a man with the head and teeth of a donkey. Oberon gets Puck to rearrange the lovers and to set Titania free, and when they return to Athens, the Duke adds the marriage of the true pairs of lovers to his own celebration and the players give their masque as a happy ending.

Neither Pritchett or Strallen are particularly strong in their roles, but a lot of the majesty of the production is the pageantry and posing of royalty, servants, and in the case of the young lovers, students armed with sports equipment. The two very strong players are Will Appicella and John LaVelle.

Alexander Dodge’ set – a super attractive Tudor style gate house that rotates 180 degrees and becomes ivy covered as we move to the side beyond the city – is extremely effective. It creates a solid centerpiece with a long row of tiny houses in the distant background, and very Globe-like space in the foreground for the action of the actors, while Titania and Puck occasionally hold court from an upper window. The lighting and sound and other effects, like occasional fog, or turning Nick Bottom into a quite realistic donkey, are very well done. Joshua Pearson’s costumes also delight.

And so, even if you might not get the clarity of all the words from a few of the lead actors, you are likely to go home with a wonderful sense of having been in the middle of exceptionally fine choreography and pageantry and Shakespearian grandeur. This production scores a very high mark in its overall impact on how to do fine theater.

Tickets and information at www.hartfordstage.org. Or phone 860-527-5151.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre September 20, 2017