Theater Review | A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by Bill Shakes at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

3-stars

So you’re a Shakespeare fan in a hurry.

A cut-to-the-chase kind of groundling.

A get-to-the-point Royal.

And after hearing about yet another production of MIDSUMMER, you’ve got one question:

“Is it worth my time and money to see this show?”

So for you fidgety lot, we have a simple condensed review: Yes

And with that out of the way…

Oberon (Ted Deasy) looks on as Helena (Christiana Clark) resists the professions of Demetrius (Wayne T. Carr, left) and Lysander (Joe Wegner). Photo by Jenny Graham.
Oberon (Ted Deasy) looks on as Helena (Christiana Clark) resists the professions of Demetrius (Wayne T. Carr, left) and Lysander (Joe Wegner). Photo by Jenny Graham.

In Director Christopher Liam Moore’s take on this 400 year old classic, the class of 1964 is just about to graduate from Catholic high school in Athens, and the kids are all dressed up in conservative, maroon uniforms with big A’s on their chests.

It’s a fun and funny setting for that part of the story – especially with Theseus and Hippolyta done up as nun and priest at the same school.

Theseus (Richard Howard) and Hippolyta (Judith-Marie Bergan) decide it's time to leave their orders and marry. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Theseus (Richard Howard) and Hippolyta (Judith-Marie Bergan) decide it’s time to leave their orders and marry. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

And then there’s the forest, where our characters and story will be transformed (at least for the night).

This summer all three outdoor shows at OSF share the same attractive base stage by Michael Ganio. With entrancing projections by Alexander V. Nichols and lighting by David Weiner on top, the overall look and feel of the stage is spectacular. The full height of the Elizabethan stage backdrop is a canvas for light and image painting, and does it ever shine.

Even though the underlying technology powering what we see is no doubt the latest and greatest, watching colors change and forests move in waves is so natural and magical, we don’t for a minute feel like we are watching “special effects” (as they are woodenly known). Instead, it’s REAL – like an outward projection from the internal, private screens of our imagination. “What if vines could creep skyward right about now?” Make it so! BAM.

The lighting and projections lend the outdoor shows a certain cinematic feel, but do not go too far. It’s unlike anything else I have ever seen in the theatre.

The playing field.  Set by Michael Ganio, lighting by David Weiner, video projections by Alexander V. Nichols. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
The playing field. Set by Michael Ganio, lighting by David Weiner, video projections by Alexander V. Nichols. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Once the story gets going, we have a few main threads to follow. They are all quite enjoyable. Puck (Gina Daniels) flits about pouring potions and bestowing the Elizabethan equivalent of beer goggles on Titania. The mechanicals dream of their big Guffman-like break on stage, when they, too, will “put on a show!” – and next stop, The Globe?

The Mechanicals (Ensemble) celebrate their opportunity to present a play. Photo by Jenny Graham.
The Mechanicals (Ensemble) celebrate their opportunity to present a play. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Brent Hinkley, so adept at appearing red nose drunk, lost, or otherwise out of it in many OSF shows, does valiant service here as Bottom. It takes some presence to be able to stomp around stage dressed like an ass at full volume, and Hinkley is fully up to the job at hand. In his inept play within a play finale, Hinkley takes the physical comedy up into what would be color coded as red by Homeland Security. He’s a definite threat to your mental equilibrium, and if preexisting health conditions discourage laughing, this is not the show for you.

In at least two of the three outdoor shows this year (I haven’t seen CYMBELINE yet), the full power of the theatrical art form is on display. And on any given night under the southern Oregon stars, the effect is pure joy.

For those of us living close to Ashland, it’s easy to forget sometimes how special the outdoor stage is.

But this is the sort of magic that should never feel merely ordinary.

The Mechanicals perform their play at the reception of Theseus and Hippolyta. Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.
The Mechanicals perform their play at the reception of Theseus and Hippolyta. Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Puck (Gina Daniels) advises one of the Fairies as Oberon (Ted Deasy) and Titania (Terri McMahon) vow their love.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Puck (Gina Daniels) advises one of the Fairies as Oberon (Ted Deasy) and Titania (Terri McMahon) vow their love. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Oberon (Ted Deasy) plays a cruel joke on Titania (Terri McMahon). Photo by Jenny Graham.
Oberon (Ted Deasy) plays a cruel joke on Titania (Terri McMahon). Photo by Jenny Graham.