The Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) opened its 56th season last weekend with one of the Bard’s most beloved plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in addition to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), Macbeth, Richard II and a two-night reprise of Women of Will. To say that A Midsummer Night’s Dream kicked off the festival marvelously is an understatement along the lines of saying that the NSA has a vague idea of your calling and Internet browsing habits.
Despite the presence of a fairy community complete with its own social hierarchy and unusual mores and a secondary play acted out within the confines of the primary production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is actually one of old Will’s most accessible and relatively simple works. It overflows with whimsy and wonder, and is chockablock with both low and high humor, as characters utter Shakespeare’s brilliantly crafted bon mots one moment, then, with as much ease, tumble into a pratfall the next.
The play opens mid-predicament for a less-famous pair of star-crossed lovers, Hermia (Jenna Bainbridge) and Lysander (Sean Scrutchins). While Hermia and Lysander love each other madly, Hermia’s father, Egeus (Sam Sandoe), forbids their relationship. Remember, women were property at the time, and Egeus has promised Hermia to a nobler, richer man, Demetrius (Sammie Joe Kinnett).
Rather than knuckle under to Egeus’ will or the harsh laws of the land, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together. They are pursued by Demetrius, who is, in turn, pursued by Helena (Taylor Fisher), the fourth side of what could most accurately be called a love quadrilateral. Helena prizes Demetrius despite his affection for Hermia and is determined to make him hers. All four lovers and would-be lovers wind up smack dab in the middle of a forest inhabited by a fairy kingdom, and their timing couldn’t be worse.
Oberon, the King of the Fairies, (Steven Cole Hughes) and Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, ( Jamie Ann Romero) are having a bit of a row. To punish her for her obstinance, Oberon directs his right-hand fairy, Puck (Lawrence Hecht), to use a magical flower to enchant the sleeping Titania so that she will fall in love with the first creature she sees upon waking. Oberon plans to gloat and giggle as Titania swoons for a boar, otter or Rocky Dennis.
Having overheard Helena bemoaning the fact that Demetrius does not return her love, Oberon tells Puck to use the love flower on Demetrius as well. At really no fault of his own, Puck mistakenly doses Lysander who, upon waking, first sees and falls head over heels for Helena. Now, to put it in Doyle-ian parlance, the game is truly afoot. Both Lysander and Demetrius lust after Helena and treat Hermia with complete contempt. Hermia and Helena are baffled as Hermia can’t understand Lysander’s defection, and Helena thinks the other three are having a laugh at her expense.
Meanwhile, in the same forest, some local tradesmen are practicing a play they hope to perform for the Duke on the night of his wedding. The lead actor, Nick Bottom (Nigel Gore), wanders off into the woods. Puck, being Puck, transforms Bottom’s head into that of a donkey (cue ass jokes), and in this hybrid form Bottom is the first creature Titania sees when she awakes. Bottom, blithely unaware he’s wearing Eeyore’s head, soaks up the adoration.
Things resolve in a jovial and pleasantly romantic way, and the play is capped off by the tradesmen’s performance for the nobles. It is definitely a happily-ever-after type of affair.
This A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in the Roaring ’20s, and the costume design by Clare Henkel shoulders most of the transportive load. From Hermia’s polio crutch to Oberon’s wings to Titania’s headdress, Henkel makes Midsummer Night look beautiful. Her costumes and the sound design by Steve Stevens — you’ll swear there is a duck waddling around the Mary Rippon Theatre — contribute the most to the play’s reality.
Scrutchins and Kinnett work wonders with physical humor. As Helena, Fisher blew me out of my seat with her abilities. More than virtually anyone else on stage, she made Shakespeare’s words seem utterly natural even in 2013. And I can’t say enough about Nigel Gore. His Bottom is a glorious thing to behold.
Whether you’ve never been to the CSF or are a longtime fan, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must-see.
A Midsummer Night´s Dream plays at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival on the CU campus through Aug. 11. Tickets are $10-$59. For tickets or information, call 303-492-8008 or visit www.coloradoshakes.org.