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Cedar City • Utah Shakespeare Festival offers a less traditional approach to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" now playing in the company's indoor Randall Theatre. Director Kristen Brandt has set the comedy in the 1920s, and the result is a playful, campy, slightly over-the-top production that's a lot of fun.
Like "As You Like It," another festival production this summer, "Midsummer" has two distinct environments, and in both plays, characters leave the restrictions of the court to go into the woods and discover who they are and what's really important.
But the woods in "Midsummer" are decidedly different. The presence of the fairies and their mischievous magic creates chaos that the two couples Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius must weather to attain self-knowledge.
Almost all the play's action takes place at night, when dreams eclipse the rational world and the fairies take control. Everything is translated and transformed: The lovers switch allegiances, Bottom turns into an ass and Titania is bewitched into falling in love with him.
As morning comes, the magic dissolves, and characters see with new clarity. Ironically, the least sophisticated character, Bottom, best expresses what happens: "I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was."
The difference in the way dreams and reality inform each other is the central theme that unites the three strands of the plot: the lovers, the fairies and the mechanicals. This production makes that connection stronger by double-casting not only Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania but also the fairies and the mechanicals. Bottom is the only character who is part of both the real and fairy worlds.
The production strongly contrasts the rigid formality of court with the airy, magical freedom of the forest. Jason Lajka's set transforms from an elegant, but sterile and confining, green-paneled room into an open stage with a silver metal staircase and platform and stylized moon cutout where Puck sits; the backdrop is blue and twinkles with stars.
Kirk Bookman's lighting bathes the forest with an otherworldly glow. Barry Funderburg's sound design fills the woods with strange music and magical noises. Brenda Van Der Wiel's sophisticated black, gray and silver court clothes give way to a rainbow of colors in the forest: Oberon and Titania wear shades of blue, Puck is in bright green, and the fairies have pastel outfits and quirky hats.
J. Todd Adams shifts seamlessly from a stern, authoritarian Theseus to a strong-willed, but compassionate Oberon. Melinda Parrett's strikingly stylish, sensual and self-possessed Hippolyta whispers supportive words to the disobedient Hermia and is a polar opposite to her stubborn and regal but intensely curious and feminine Titania. Her encounters with Oberon have a competitive, sexually charged edge.
Kaitlin Margaret Mills' feisty, determined Hermia differs sharply from Cassandra Bissell's outspoken, earthy Helena, although Mills' voice gets shrill when she's excited. Marco Antonio Vega's Demetrius is a crafty and calculating contrast to Riley Shanahan's more direct and spontaneous Lysander.
Brandt has choreographed lots of physical comedy for the lovers that they execute with perfect timing. They shed clothing along with their inhibitions and preconceptions as they venture deeper into the forest, a perfect embodiment of Bottom's remark that "reason and love keep little company together these days."
Whether shamelessly overacting as Pyramus or braying quixotic commands at the fairies, James Newcomb is a lovable dolt of a Bottom, and Kelly Rogers' light-footed, mischief-making Puck exults in the confusion she creates.
The mechanicals are delightful, and Van Der Wiel has given them a hilarious miscellany of costumes for the play: Pyramus wears a barrel, sword and cleaning brush, and Eric Schabla's very silly Thisbe sports a blond wig, a pink dress and a glazed look.
In the play's epilogue, Puck says, "You have but slumbered here/While these visions did appear." Whether you interpret it as dream or reality, this reimagining of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a delightful diversion.
'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
Kristen Brandt's 1920s Art Deco production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" gives a favorite Shakespeare comedy a campy new look.
When • Reviewed July 11; plays in rotating repertory at 2 and 8 p.m. through Oct. 21
Where • Randall L. Jones Theatre at the Beverley Center for the Performing Arts, 351 W. Center St., Cedar City
Tickets • $32-$75 (groups, students and seniors); 800-PLAYTIX or bard.org/tickets
Running time • Two hours and 45 minutes (including intermission)