A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Guthrie Theatre

Alex Gibson, Christina Acosta Robinson. Tyler Michaels, Nicholas Carrière and Tony Vierling in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Dan Norman.

Alex Gibson, Christina Acosta Robinson. Tyler Michaels, Nicholas Carrière and Tony Vierling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Dan Norman.

The Guthrie‘s production of William Shakespeare‘s delightful A Midsummer Night’s Dream clocks in at a bladder busting three plus hours. Loud and long, massive and ambitious, this show entertains – does it ever – but doesn’t pull you in. One sits back, marveling at the talent and creativity so richly on display. But one holds at arms length the intertwining stories: the lovers, the fairies, the Duke and his court, the wacko actors (what most productions, this one included, call the “Mechanicals”). This is due, perhaps, to the overwhelming size of the enterprise (the Wurtele is less than intimate and the placing of extra seating upstage exacerbates this). Or maybe this is caused chilly lighting (designed by Frank Butler). The stomping punk/fairies. Whatever the reason, emotional resonance is low.

But this may be just what the bard intended. In Dream, there is almost no meaningful self-discovery (that which permeates the more “mature” comedies As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, etc). Rather, we get the deliriously ravishing moon, the endless night, the insane forest and, above all, mischievous Puck (a terrific turn by Tyler Michaels)’s obsession-inducing narcotic flower. Everything, Oberon tells us, is but “a dream and a vision.” Meaningful character growth? Not really. In its place you get lovers and fairies whipped together in a marvelous Shakespearean soufflé. Poetry and passion. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece.

As Helena, Emily Kitchens thrills. She displays a wonderful love-is-my-last-chance comic intensity and an impeccable sense of timing and I couldn’t rip my eyes away from her. The other lovers acquit themselves very well: Casey Hoekstra as Demetrius, Zach Keenan as Lysander, Eleonore Dendy as Hermia. Although these characters are barely distinguishable, Shakespeare (and directors Joe Dowling and David Bolger) have enormous fun with them, as they rip into each other with lovely comic rage. Not to worry: it’s all a dream on a midsummer night.

Also wonderful are the “Mechanicals”: the sweet and lovable Quince (Jay Alright), the thin (and Lord help me, sexy) Flute (Michael Fell), zestful Robin (Angela Timberman), the shy Snout (Peter Thomson), Snug the scary (not) lion (Kris L. Nelson). And of course blubbery blowhard Bottom who turns into an Arcimboldo (the artist who created vegetable faces) ass and whose “love scenes” with Fairy Queen Titania (“Let me kiss thy fair large ears.”) will make you giggle ceaselessly. Their rendition of the “tedious tragical comedy ‘Pyramus and Thisby'” goes on (and on), but it’s a hoot and a half.

Less wonderful (for me) are Midsummer‘s fairies. The acting is excellent: Nicholas Carrière as Oberon and Christina Acosta Robinson as Titania, boffo. But too much, imho, of Shakespeare’s exquisite poetry is set to slow music (by composer Keith Thomas). Too often the play stops as Bolger and Dowling insert doo-wop, disco, reggae musical numbers. These songs are show-stoppers for sure, but that’s just the problem. They make Dream long and a touch tedious.

But I could be wrong and you might disagree with me and bless you if you do. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first play Dowling directed, wayyyyyyyy back in ’95, and now he’s presenting it to us again. The G has pulled out all the budgetary stops and created a big and eminently seeable play. So do.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book Tell Me A Story In The Dark will be published in March by Familius, Inc. For further info, please visit John’s website.

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