A Midsummer Night’s Dream | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Midsummer-NIghts 75I would recommend it to Shakespeare lovers, but especially to anyone who loves design, as this production is an amazing sight to behold.

Midsummer-Nights 500

Upon taking my seat at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was immediately taken by the stage floor. The gorgeous design did not let up until I left the theater. This show takes place mostly in the woods, the realm of the fairies, but starts in the Athenian royal court. Before the metaphorical curtain rose, the floor was a combination of these two settings, and it was beautiful.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream tells the story of Hermia (Caroline Amos), daughter to nobleman Egeus (Jerry Vogel). Hermia is in love with Lysander (Jeffrey Omura), but Egeus wants his daughter to marry Demetrius (Andy Rindlisbach) and takes his daughter’s disobedience to the Duke. The first scene introduces us to actors Alvin Keith and Rebecca Watson, who play Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his betrothed, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Later, we see these two again as the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. Hermia and Lysander run away to the woods so they can be married and escape the harsh rule of Egeus. Helena (Gracyn Mix), Hermia’s best friend, joins them after Helena learns that Demetrius, with whom she is in love, will be going to the woods to stop Lysander and Hermia. It is not easy to see how anyone would want to be friends with Helena and her single-minded obsession of wooing Demetrius, but these two actresses have a great chemistry.

In the woods we meet a band of fairies, led by Oberon and Titania. A changeling boy who Titania has brought from India causes contention when she wants to raise the boy and Oberon instead wants him as his knight. Oberon enlists the fairy Puck (played expertly by Jim Poulos) to teach Titania a lesson. She is given the potion from a flower that makes her fall in love with the first thing she sees. The fairies surrounding their queen are played by most of the same actors as the band of players. So transformed by the amazing costumes and fairy-like movements are Michael Jean Dozier (Snug and Moth), Carl Howell (Francis Flute and Peasblossom), Adam Lendermon (Robin Starveling and Mustardseed), and Kern McFadden (Tom Snout and Cobweb) that you hardly realize they are the same people. They are joined by Ryan Alexander Jacobs as Thistlebough and often Puck as well, although he spends most of his time on stage alone talking to the audience or with Oberon. The fairies make clicking noises and whistle as they serve Titania, a production choice I had not seen before. The fairy queen ends up in love with the player Nick Bottom (Michael James Reed), a man who one of the fairies has turned into a donkey. One feature of the fairies employed in this production is the ability to control others and objects with their mind while moving their hands. This is put to excellent use by Oberon when Puck tells him that Titania is in love with an ass and Oberon rewinds Puck so he can hear it again. The audience loved this and hardly let Puck get his line out again.

Once the four lovers—Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius—are in the woods, they are immediately lost. Puck mistakes Demetrius for Lysander and puts the same love potion in his eyes, causing Midsummer 350Lysander to fall in love with Helena. Puck then gets it right, only to have Helena followed by both men! The lovers chase each other through the woods getting more and more frustrated as Hermia cannot understand what has happened to her beloved Lysander and Helena not believing either man loves her. As this happens, the young Athenians continually lose articles of clothing and, a hilarious touch, Hermia’s umbrella gets shabbier and more ragged, also to the delight of the audience. Helena and Hermia eventually get into a fight during which Lysander and Demetrius have to carry Hermia so she will not keep lunging at Helena. The physical comedy here is carried out perfectly by Caroline Amos as Hermia. All of the young lovers are fabulous in their last scenes in the woods as everything is unraveling.

The last group of characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the band of players, the townspeople who are working on a play to be performed at the court during the wedding ceremony. Although this is supposed to be the comic relief of the show, this part fell flat for me. The bit goes on too long and the jokes do not resonate. Yet, there were some standouts in this group. Michael Jean Dozier made a very charming lion. He was adorable trying to roar without scaring the ladies. As the tailor and the moon, Adam Lendermon was funny and hilariously nervous about everything.

Since this is a comedy, not a tragedy, the fairy flower potions are righted and the appropriate people fall in love with each other. The Duke helps Egeus see that Hermia marrying Lysander is not so bad after all, and Helena and Demetrius end up together as well. The final scenes take place in the royal court with the players performing the play and the weddings about to take place before we are again and finally spirited away to the woods. Puck ends the show amidst the beautiful color changing trees.

Immediately striking in this production are the costumes. The Athenian garb in the first scene dazzles with leaf-patterned pants and jackets that match on the men, gorgeous flowing white dresses with similar outdoor patterns on the women. These subtle hints of our time in the woods to come is one reason why the costumes are the star of this show. I cannot say enough good things about the work of Susan Branch Towne, the costume designer. Many productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream rely on generically leafy dress for the fairies, but the fairy costumes in this production were gorgeous and unique. The fairy men and women had intricate designs up and down their arms and legs and lots of beautifully textured fabrics for their clothing. Oberon’s cape lent a gravitas to his role that would have been hard to attain without it and Titania’s flowing multi-colored skirt was perfect for a queen. Also stunning were the wire masks that the fairies wore. These gave the illusion of more design weaving around their faces and added to the magic and the mystery.

Overall, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was dazzling and fun. I would recommend it to Shakespeare lovers, but especially to anyone who loves design, as this production is an amazing sight to behold. | Emily Scharf

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through Nov. 9. For ticket information, visit http://www.repstl.org. 

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