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A Midsummer Night's Dream | St. Louis Shakespeare

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Each scene which involved Gillendaro inevitably led to laughs, especially his performance in the final scene as Pyramus, performing for the Duke and the wedding parties.

 

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Milt Zoth
Through March 26, 2006

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must admit this right off the bat: I am not a Shakespeare fan. Yes, I understand that it seems sacrilegious to say, especially for someone who loves the theater. But it is true; I’ve always felt that Shakespeare was stodgy, old, and unable to relate to the modern audience. Sure, I certainly respect the man for his contributions, both to the craft of theater and the modern English language as a whole, but for me to claim to be a Shakespeare fan would be wrong. Having only read his plays and never seen them live, I also understood that I was not in any position to judge the relative worth of his plays. After seeing St. Louis Shakespeare’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I must confess that my initial impressions of Shakespeare were wrong. Dead wrong. Far from being stodgy and stale, this play seemed fresh, vibrant, and fully relatable to the modern audience.

A brief synopsis for those unacquainted with the Bard’s play: Lysander (Ben Ritchie) and Hermia (Tonya Darabcsek) love one another. As this is Shakespeare, however, something must prevent the two from being together (and in fact, Shakespeare clearly states it with the line, “The course of true love never did run smoothly”). In this case, it is Hermia's father, Egeus (Phillip Bozich), who stands in the lovers' way. He wants his daughter to marry Demetrius (Brendan Allred), and correctly points out that Athenian law dictates that his daughter is his property and therefore should marry whomever he pleases. Unsatisfied with the choice of marrying Demetrius or dying single, she and Lysander plot to run into the woods to get married. Helena (Kimberly Mason), friend to Hermia, is in love with Demetrius and plots to win his love by revealing the duplicitous plan. Once in the woods, Oberon (Dave Steckel) overhears Helena's unrequited love-sickness, and employs Puck (Jennifer Theby) to cast a spell on Demetrius that will cause him to fall in love with Helena. Through a mishap, Puck winds up casting the spell on both men, and both for fall Helena, much to her (and Hermia's) chagrin. Not to ruin the end, but as this is a comedy, by the end of the play, one can imagine who winds up with whom and lives happily ever after.

The true highlights of the play, however, are the scenes which involve the Athenian tradesmen, with Todd Gillendaro giving a hilariously scene-stealing performance as Bottom. These tradesmen are in the woods rehearsing for a play to be performed at the Duke’s wedding, and all the actors in this group (Phillip Bozich pulling double-duty as Peter Quince, Dustin Allison as Francis Flute, Roger Erb as Robin Starveling, Aaron Orion Baker as Tom Snout, and John Wolbers as Snug) bring these hapless, bumbling, good-natured characters to life. Gillendaro seemed to evoke the classic Monty Python characters of the Gumbys with his comical voice and delivery; perhaps it is the inner nerd in my demanding a voice in this article, but I kept waiting to hear him exclaim, “My brain hurts!” Each scene which involved Gillendaro inevitably led to laughs, especially his performance in the final scene as Pyramus, performing for the Duke and the wedding parties. Baker also deserves an extra kudos for playing a rather convincing wall.

The direction of Milt Zoth kept the play running smoothly, keeping a good pace throughout. The set design, while just a simply Greek ruin, allowed the actors enough room to work without unnecessarily bogging the stage down with cumbersome scenery (and, in fact, Puck begins the show after the intermission in the audience itself, an interesting technique that drew the audience immediately back into the action of play). The lighting is also used to good effect, doing well to create the illusion of magic with something as simple as lighting changes. The costumes were rather simple, but that is really the only negative to be found in a play brimming with positives.

An excellent performance that proved that Shakespeare still can have the same relevancy and freshness almost 500 years after its initial debut. Each actor was able to breathe life into their characters, showing the timelessness of Shakespeare that no doubt holds appeal for many theater-goers. Shocking as it may seem to me, after this performance, I believe it can be revealed: I am now a fan of Shakespeare.

St. Louis Shakespeare continues William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream through March 26 at the Des Lee Auditorium at the History Museum (Forest Park). Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 for general admission and $20 for students and seniors, and are available at the box office, or through all MetroTix outlets (314-534-1111).

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