A Midsummer Night's Dream @ Chicago Shakespeare Theater

3.5 out of 4 stars

Vibrant reimagining of Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to life in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater this holiday season. Internationally acclaimed director Joe Dowling takes this classic tale and infuses it with a musical blend of enchanting rock, jazz, blues and doo-wop tunes. In the forest, misguided passions mix with magic spells as four young lovers and an unsuspecting troupe of aspirational players cross paths with the fairy king and queen, engaged in a war of wills. 

Firstly, Todd Rossenthal continually impresses with his stunning creations and renditions for the stage. His work creates a magical garden of the fairies seamlessly in the intimate theater space. Large crepe foliage and a clever perspective backdrop transports you between the fairy realm and human world. The mystical ambiance allows Jesse Klug’s multi-color lighting schemes to enhance this otherworldly performance. 

The stage is set and now what’s a play without the players. Sam Kebede portrays the mischievous imp Puck, as well as Philostrate. Kebede’s performance was fun and playful and really drew the audience in. Kebede has appeared off-Broadway in the title role of The Public Theater’s Mission Hamlet, and in performances with Ars Nova Theater, Harlem Repertory Theater, and The Metropolitan Room. Kebede’s styling included naturally afro-styled hair with an Ethiopian kind of necklace piece and limbs adorned with feathers and lightening bolts contrasting him against the other fairies. Fabio Toblini’s overall costume design is a wonderful mixture between the two worlds. In the human world we see a contemporary Americana contrasted with fairies decked in glittery rich toned metallics reminiscent of 80s hair metal. The Fairy Queen’s dress was particularly stunning in structure. It was primarily a leotard bodice with a 18th century Pannier style mesh glittery skirt giving it a sexy look.

As the amorous young couples who slip into the enchanted woods in search of true love are Cristina Panfilio (Helena), Tyrone Phillips (Lysander), Melisa Soledad Pereyra (Hermia), and Eric Schabla (Demetrius). Phillips having performed this past summer in Shakespeare in the Parks A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Demetrius - it was a joy to see him again, but this time as Lysander.  The brilliantly cast Athens community theater brings hysteria. T.R. Knight, best known for his Emmy Award-nominated portrayal of Dr. George O’Malley as part of the original cast of the wildly popular ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy, performs the role of Bottom—the aspiring thespian who is hilariously transfigured into a donkey by a fairy spell. Knight’s performance was incredible. His subtleness and approach to his character brought out more depth than I have seen in previous performances of Midsummer. Bottom usually the joke of the entire show is a fool character, but within this performance although a fool he is endearing is such a way that makes your heart laugh at the absurdity then introspectively empathize with him. Portraying the bumbling amateur theatrical troupe alongside T.R. Knight are Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (Snout), Joe Dempsey (Peter Quince), William Dick (Egeus/Snug), Sara Sevigny (Starveling), and Alec Silver (Francis Flute). The hiking sequence is utterly side splitting as personalities collide and poor Peter Quince tries to direct his cohorts in rehearsals for their performance in front of the Duke. 

Greg Hofmann’s sound scape during Hermia’s disillusionment and confused direction within the woods was a wonderful note in sound design worth noting. The multiple echos of her cries out for her love reverberated back to her via the fairies cackling and repeating her on top of audio manipulation. The only downside to this play is that it felt pushed together. The musical sequences were sprinkled in fairy focused scenes, but were scattered to the point that one wondered if they were necessary. While fun (particularly the lullaby and the first song), the overall production wasn’t threaded with it, which made it seem off. Director Joe Dowling last staged this same title as a part of Chicago Shakespeare’s inaugural season on the Pier and memorably, that production ended with a blessing for the theater. Spectacular! Notably, two decades later Dowling revisits the production in an enchanting way that just fell slightly short of perfection. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is presented in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater, now through January 27, 2019. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the CST Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.

CST strives to make its facility and performances accessible to all patrons through its Access Shakespeare programs.

Accessible performances include:
Open-captioning – Thursday, January 3, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Audio-description – Sunday, January 13, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. with optional touch tour at 12:00 p.m.
ASL Duo-interpretation – Friday, January 18, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!