Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Peter and the Starcatcher
A Midsummer Night's Dream presented in an outdoor settingwhat could seem more natural and perfect, as it proves to be in Jonathan Epstein's hilariously entertaining, if updated production. Now I'm going to let you in on a little secret; this geezer prefers his classics presented in traditional productions. Once the updating starts, so much can go out of wack. Character's socio economic relationships become blurred, certain behavior ceases to make much sense, and it all can become a jumble. Here, all of the above occur, but the physical antics, a few current references (Bottom asks, of the wall in the Pyramus and Thisbe sequence, "who is going to pay for it?"), and added plot clarity for the audience make the case for modernization. Besides, these students are being trained for versatility, not to deliver iambic pentameter convincingly, so what they can't do really well would probably sabotage a more classic approach. What they can and do do very well is present the emotions and actions of these characters for a more modern sensibility.
Epstein has directed a fast-paced productionthe actors must run several miles full out at each performance. The performing space that Epstein is given to work in is much larger than any of the indoor stages that might have been used. The center stage area is in front of a pond and from time to time fairies are seen in the woods behind the pond, for a really nice effect. All of the physical comedy and Jonathan Epstein's ability to direct to each actor's strengths makes for a production that kept the opening night audience thoroughly entertained.
Anthony J. Hamilton is Theseus, later Oberon, and Mary Ellen Everett is Hippolyta and Titania. Neither is as commanding as a Duke of Athens and his intended Duchess or King and Queen of the Fairies should be, but this is largely due to the updating. Period costuming would visually clarify their standing better. The majority of the plot revolves around our four lovers: Amber Lageman as Hermia, loved by Lysander played by Nolan Fitzgerald Hennelly and desired by Demetrius played by Dustin Babin who in turn is loved by Helena, played by Colleen Lafeber. Ms. Lageman is winsome, Ms. Lafeber is whiny, a directorial choice probably. The men are manly, especially in much of the second act when they run around the woods, both chasing after Helena naked to the waist. Our fairies are Amy Helms as First Fairy/Snug, Andrew Hardaway as Cobweb, Sara Linares as Peaseblossom, and Lawrence James as Mustardseed. They are all in enchanting very colorful costumes and all make them work for effective portrayals.
Andrew Bosworth portrays the mischievous Puck, doubling as Egeus in the Athenian Court Scenes. He is sinewy as a proper Puck should be. Our rustics are a merry group. Aleksandr Krapivkin is Peter Quince with a middle European accent which I am guessing is an inside wink at his country of origin. How he defines his character with a pair of glasses simply has to be seen. Kedren Spencer as Nikki Bottom stops the show cold with her first bray wearing the mule's head, but in all honesty she is gloriously funny every second she is in front of us. Wes Tolman is really cast against his very handsome physicality as Francis Flute, yet shows his talent when bedecked in a mop head as a wig. He is very funny without showing the effort to be so. Christopher Carlson as Robin Snout Starveling is fine, especially in the many roles (Wall, moonlight) that his character is asked to play. He really proves once and for all that Jerry Herman was and always will be right, "The Man in the Moon is a lady."
My guess is that director Jonathan Epstein's vision is to make A Midsummer Night's Dream entertaining, and he succeeds. He brilliantly uses the setting to convey that we are in various parts of a wooded glade for much of the play and the whole affair is a visual delight. Costume design by Becki Leigh is magnificently colorful, yet conveys an artistic unity from high to low. Ms. Leigh's work is on display at theaters all over the region, and she is to be commended for an incredible body of work. Chris McVicker is the scenic and lighting Designer. The scenic part is minimal, mostly using the natural beauty of the Selby Gardens setting. The lighting is amazing, considering that all the equipment needed to be brought in piece by piece, so getting the job done at all is quite a feat. Choreography by Eliza Ladd seems to be mostly among the fairies and the other characters running all over the place.
Audiences who think themselves allergic to Shakespeare can partake of this A Midsummer Night's Dream without qualm. It is hugely entertaining, and this is the perfect time of year for an evening overlooking Hudson Bayou. Hurry to reserve your tickets, as announcements were made before the start of the show that the first two weeks are completely sold out. Be forewarned, the seats are not particularly comfortable. Thanks to Jonathan Epstein and Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training for a really fun production.
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training presents A Midsummer Night's Dream through April 29, 2017, at Marie Selby Gardens, Sarasota, FL. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Directed by Jonathan Epstein