ASHLAND – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and most often performed plays, and for good reason.
It is charming, witty and rich, with a variety of emotions. But no matter how many times you’ve seen it, here’s betting you’ve never seen it performed with the style and panache as the offering at this year’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Among the Festival’s season opening plays, “Dream” quickly evolves into a ravishingly produced, stunningly vibrant and delightfully entertaining romp. The Angus Bowmer Theatre stage comes alive much as the play’s cast of characters, a wondrous conglomerate of unique individuals, reveal their quirks and personalities.
Actually, “Dream’s” lighthearted mood is established before the actual play as Royer Bockus, who later becomes Helena, wanders on stage to warm-up the audience with her delicious off-key singing and other antics. It’s a way to get audiences in the mood for fun, and “Dream” is fun.
“Dream” is a story that focuses around two frustrated young lovers, Hermia and Lysander, but there are others waiting, wanting and learning how to woo and be wooed. What begins as a prelude before the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta concludes with the marriage of two other couples, Hermia and Lysander, inevitably, Helena and Demetrius. Their vows are followed by the performance of the Mechanicals, an untalented troupe of craftspeople who provide a hilarious midsummer night’s nightmare.
Director Joseph Hai creates “Dream” in an unconventional style, one that would like have the Bard smiling and applauding. Shakespeare provides the story with its inherent verbal wordplay, fairies and its labyrinth twists and turns, but Hai designs a version that’s snappy and visually remarkable. The forest outside Athens takes on a persona all its own thanks to everything from the dazzling lighting, scenery, sets, costumes and physical comedy that would make Simone Biles envious.
“Night” is a play rich with characters, including the self-inflated Nick Bottom, the fairy queen Titania, the fairy king Oberon, Snug the meek would-be lion, and, of course, loveable, fumbling-bumbling Puck, who creates chaos out of order.
The acting is superb, with many in the cast smoothly changing personas. Bockus is stumblingly funny as Helena, Jonathan Luke Stevens is groovy cool as Lysander, and William Thomas Hodgson excels as the naïve Demetrius. There’s not a weak performance, from Daniel T. Parker as the full-of-himself, stupid as an ass Bottom; while Cristofer Jean, K.T. Vogt, Al Espinosa, Tyrone Wilson, Jimmy Kieffer and Lauren Modica all are delightful or, as needs be, stoic, in multiple roles.
Don’t simply think about seeing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a sure to-be season long sell-out show. Don’t wait until mid-summer. Spring into action and make “Dream” a reality.