Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents a vibrantly reimagined A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Director Joe Dowling puts a fanciful spin on this classic Shakespearean comedy. Dowling skillfully directs the primary comedy-drama of the lovers’ quadrangle. Helena (played by Cristina Panfilio) loves Demetrius (played by Eric Schabla). Demetrius loves Hermia (played by Melisa Soledad Pereyra). Hermia loves Lysander (played by Tyrone Phillips). And Lysander loves Hermia until a little magic changes everything.
The lovers’ antics are hilarious. A bitter Panfilio laments over Schabla’s rejection. After some fairy meddling, she is no longer chasing. She’s being chased by both Schabla and Phillips. Pereyra is bewildered by Phillips’ sudden fascination with Panfilio. Phillips cracks me up every time he sings out Helena’s name. Although Dowling tethers us to these love stories, he also connects us to the secondary stories in an imaginative and playful way. His decision to focus on other characters heightens the fun.
In the play-within-a-play, he subtly builds backstories making us take a new interest in this little quirky troupe. The group of misfits (Joe Dempsey, T.R. Knight, Alec Silver, Sara Sevigny, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, William Dick) are hysterical. Their comedy is sometimes slapstick but more often so nuanced that it feels completely organic and unexpected… even to the troupe. Sevigny, in particular, continually reacts with looks of surprise. Sevigny uses her arsenal of facial expressions to accentuate the humor. Her comedy timing is perfection.
Dowling gives these actors playing actors a contemporary setting. They are camping in the woods for their rehearsal. Dempsey tries to wrangle them by yelling directions through a megaphone offstage. He runs back and forth trying to explain his notes while Dick aggressively throws back beers. Funny stuff! A sullen Silver resists any interaction until he hilariously transforms into a fashion diva for the ‘show.’
And then there’s Knight. He captivates the fairy queen (played by the majestic Alexandra Silber) and the audience with his buffoonery. As an ‘actor’ or a donkey, Knight is an obnoxious riot! The play-within-the-play almost steals the spotlight away from the love story but that’s what those mischievous fairies are for.
Dowling releases his fairies to the wild. And these magical sprites get up to some wicked trickery. They torment the humans and then celebrate by singing and dancing. Their merriment is infectious. Their vibrant and erotic presence explodes onstage. Dowling wants the stunning fairies to be a focal point so much so that he has the main characters stripped down to their undies. Costume Designer Fabio Toblini brilliantly contrasts the celestial beauty of the fairies by dressing the humans in their drab boxers and bras.
All the creative team (Todd Rosenthal-scenic and Greg Hofmann & Jesse Klug – lighting) ensure the dreamy otherworld dominates over the real world of polished marble. The show belongs to the fairies from Puck’s arrival! The effervescent Sam Kebede (Puck) is lowered head first from the rafters. As soon as his feet hit the ground, Kebede is running this show.
MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is a new take on an old favorite. This is truly a fairy tale!!! Although I really enjoyed Dowling’s reinvention, I imagine some Shakespearean diehards will be less enthusiastic.
Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes includes an intermission
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joe Dowling
EXTENDED Thru February 3rd
Production Photos by Liz Lauren
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