With its quartet of amorous couples and woodland setting replete with fairies, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is not only one of Shakespeare's most lavish romantic comedies, but one that offers a wealth of opportunities for an imaginative director and designers.
Center Stage's season-opening production takes full advantage and delivers a fanciful, visually lush interpretation that reinforces the theme of the mysteries and blindness of true love, whose course never does run smooth.
The visual opulence begins with designer Tony Straiges' set, which resembles a gigantic, two-level gilded bird cage surrounded by topiaries that float up magically, as if in a Magritte painting, when Puck arrives. To signal the move from town to forest, the green moire back wall of the set splits open and reveals a picture of a giant pink rose.
Puck's garb, a look borrowed from a Fellini film, is typical of Constance Hoffman's whimsically eclectic costume designs, which range from the pastel gossamer dresses of the Victorian-style child fairies to the severe lace-up, brown leather dress worn by Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.
Director Irene Lewis has gone against tradition by casting a senior citizen, actor Laurence O'Dwyer, in the impish role of Puck. Dressed in red high-top sneakers and a dark suit adorned with moth-like lavender wings, O'Dwyer's Puck is a mischievous, not always pleasant spirit. When his master, Oberon, king of the fairies, sends him on his first task, he lets out a weary sigh, and later, when sent to repair the damage he has inadvertently done, he comically shows his age by setting off with extreme sluggishness as he says: "I go, I go, look how I go!/Swifter than arrow."
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" presents three very separate realms -- the royal court, the fairy kingdom and the working class (represented by a group of bumbling tradesmen who perform a play in honor of the royal nuptials). O'Dwyer moves fluidly among all three, whether as Puck, or in the second role in which Lewis has cast him, that of the court's Master of Revels.
Lewis further links the three realms with the more conventional ploy of double-casting the roles of Oberon and Titania, his fairy queen, and the royals, Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his bride, Hippolyta. Both couples are played by Daniel Oreskes and Lynnda Ferguson. Before the play begins, Theseus has abducted Hippolyta from her kingdom, where women rule, and in the opening scene, Theseus and Hippolyta are both fierce, angry figures. By the end of the play, however, when Oberon and Titania have resolved their quarrels, the duke and his new wife have also become gentler souls, as if they have learned from the exploits of their fairy counterparts.
There's also a small but welcome touch of women's liberation in Ferguson's Hippolyta. At the start of the play, when Theseus upholds the lawful right of an Athenian to marry his daughter, Hermia, to the suitor he prefers, Hippolyta grasps Hermia's hand in sympathy. At the end, when Theseus reverses his decision, decreeing that Hermia may marry the man of her choice, he does so at Hippolyta's whispered urging.
The production features many other fine performances, including those of Rebecca Creskoff, Kristin Flanders, Juan Hernandez and Stephen Barker Turner as the four teen-age lovers whose hearts become wildly entangled. The cat fight, choreographed by J. Allen Suddeth, between Flanders' Hermia and Creskoff's Helena is one of the evening's comic highlights.
Of the tradesmen, Dan Moran is particularly funny as Bottom, the weaver. Boasting that he can handle all the roles in the "lamentable comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe," Moran, with his shaved pate, seems like a blustering contender in the World Wrestling Federation. But later, when Puck bewitches him by turning him into a man with the head of an ass, he is endearingly pathetic as the object of Titania's addled affections.
The 3,000 students who will be seeing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" should be enchanted by it, for the same reasons it will appeal to adults -- it's brimming with humor, romance and visual splendor.
"I am a spirit of no common rate," Titania tells Bottom. The same can be said of Center Stage's production, which offers a magical return to midsummer as autumn settles upon us.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7: 30 p.m. Sundays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays and Oct. 18, 25, Nov. 1, and at 1 p.m. Oct. 5 (no evening performances Oct. 14 and Nov. 5); through Nov. 9
Pub Date: 10/10/97