4 out of 4 stars
A Midsummer Night’s Dream would not be my first choice as a holiday show: I have so many memories of outdoor productions in the heat of actual summer that are part of my sense memory. With all of the fairies and romance in this plot, this is indeed a solstice show, but then I think, ok, winter solstice is at least as in need of amusements as the summer. As we delve into the cold and dark of Chicago winters, suddenly the lush overblown gigantic tropical blooms in Todd Rosenthal’s brilliant evolving set in the Courtyard Theatre at Navy Pier have brought me around: Chicago Shakespeare’s latest staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a perfect celebration of the season!
This version of Shakespeare’s much done classic is living large: the fairies fly, it’s practically a musical with a rock and doo-wop score by Keith Thomas and several big dance numbers mostly lead by First Fairy Adrienne Storrs. There is an overt sexuality, with gender bending overtones, though nothing more overt than what’s on network tv so still a completely family friendly production. Director Joe Dowling raises the stakes in this imagining by making Theseus, the Duke of Athens, as well as Lysander, Demetirus and Egeus all active military. When Egeus invokes his right to dispose of his daughter as he would, since she is his property, it gives a gravitas and danger to the play that is not often highlighted.
The double casting of Edward O’Blennis as both Theseus and Oberon and Alexandra Silber as both Hippolyta and Titania really works here to make the Dream plausible, and offer each of these characters more dimensionality and resonance. Silber’s almost wordless Hippolyta speaks volumes in a gesture, she is clearly a feminist and she manages to convey that her union to Theseus is not entirely a love match. Sam Kebede’s Puck is beautiful, wicked and almost childlike as he aims to please his demanding boss. Finally the Mechanicals, the band of working class people putting on a play as a gift for the nuptials, are a group of community theatre folk we all know and love. They make us laugh so hard we can barely breathe while remaining sympathetic and relatable. Joe Dempsey’s long suffering Peter Quince reminds me of my high school drama teacher herding cats, and T.R. Knight’s Nick Bottom becomes your nerdy office mate dating out of his league.
There is nothing truly sad in the this Midsummer, with the possible exception of the motherless Changeling story—there are stressful moments and lovely ones too, but this production is meant to entertain and not force you to think too much, which is just what we need in these dark days. It’s an up to date, modern interpretation can appeal to and create wonder in a screen saturated audience. My seatmate had never seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this production, with its marvel filled set and beautiful costumes by Fabio Toblini was a wondrous start to getting to know this script. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is running at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Courtyard Theatre on Navy Pier at 800 East Grand Avenue in Chicago until January 27, 2019.For tickets and information go to www.ChicagoShakes.com or call 312-596-5600. Or visit: https://www.theatreinchicago.com/a-midsummer-nights-dream/10186/