Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM isn’t afraid to embrace the wonderfully silly and naughty aspects of Shakespeare, and the approach works like a charm.
The plot is as silly as they come with Helena (Jessica Gianone) in love with Demetrius (Arlen Hancock) who’s in love with Hermia (Jenna Kuerzi), who loves Lysander (Josh Kachnycz). Hermia’s father Egeus (Michael Gamache) wants to force his daughter to marry Demetrius, so Lysander and Hermia – followed by Demetrius and Helena—decide to elope. They get lost in a magical forest where the fairy king Oberon (Brian Anthony Wilson) has his own relationship problem with the fairy queen Titania (Eleni Delopoulos), who wants nothing to do with him. Add to this one mischievous sprite, one potent love potion and several ridiculously incompetent actors rehearsing a play in the same forest and – depending on the production – you have either a tedious farce or a dose of delightful silliness. In this case it’s very much the latter.
There’s some impressive comedic acting in this production, particularly by John Zak as Bottom and Melissa Dunphy as Puck. Bottom is supposed to steal every scene he’s in and that’s exactly what John Zak does with his detailed performance and impeccable timing. Melissa Dunphy is so gloriously gleeful that Puck’s actions as the engine of the plot end up making sense, which in all the madness of this play is quite the achievement. She’s energetic, but never loses control of the character and understands when to tone it down to avoid becoming exhausting. Unfortunately that’s not a skill everyone in the cast has, and particularly Jenna Kuerzi as Hermia is exhaustingly hyper from the beginning to the end. In contrast, Eleni Delopoulos both as Titania and Hippolyta seems unable to bring any sense of energy or variety to her performance. The rest of the cast does a good job and particularly the band of actors play well off of each other and deliver their individual comedic moments with spirit.
The sounds design is magically creepy in the right way and while the set is simplistic, its resourceful use of the few elements on stage is impressive: the two curtains become beds, traps, swings, trees etc. This production does have a tendency to abuse its strengths by overusing its clever ideas, and the curtains as well as the light effects have moments when their use is more gratuitous and clumsy than atmospheric. The costumes place this production in India, which seems random and unnecessary, but doesn’t deduct much from the whole, and in general the flaws of this production are small enough to be easily ignored when there is much fun to be had.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre manages to do justice to the original humor in the script as well as make a frequently staged play feel fresh. And most importantly, it’s fun to watch. [Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom Street] April 3-May 17, 2015 http://www.phillyshakespeare.org/