A love letter to nature and an adventure in relationships, PICT Classic Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a stunningly bright production celebrating the actors’ power through poetry and the audience’s “imaginary forces.” In WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio–a space steeped in imagination—director Alan Stanford’s simple and striking design choices support the depth of language and situations Shakespeare’s magic-laden comedy so beloved.
The design potential of a white setting floating in a sea of black might be Stanford’s nod to Peter Brook’s groundbreaking “white-box” Midsummer (1970). PICT’s Midsummer is a breath of fresh summer air in these over-produced and amplified times. A departure from much of the realism demanded by the company’s classic repertoire, the company abandons its frequent box set or more traditional flats in favor of an open white stage on which to draw infinite fantasies.
Shades of white also adorn each actor, an efficient ensemble of 13 transforming into multiple roles. Showcased in this simplified world, the players speak some of the most beautiful, comic, and clever words assembled by Shakespeare. The cast’s balletic and athletic movement throughout is also a lovely departure for this company.
Written and originally produced around the same time as Romeo and Juliet (1595-96), Midsummer employs some of Shakespeare’s most powerful tools for parallel dramatic and comedic plots while artfully sharing his vibrant exploration of the human heart and the natural world. “I know bank where the wild thyme blows, / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” says Oberon as he envisions the place where Fairy Queen Titania sleeps. When his sprightly henchman Puck places the nectar of a magical flower on Titania’s eyes, mystical powers change the course of true love and fuel the plot.
Midsummer places very human characters in the center of the fairies’ world. Disobedient daughter Hermia runs away with her love Demetrius rather than wed Lysander, the young Athenian her father Egeus prefers. Lysander and Helen—who is smitten with him– shows up into annoy the runaway lovers. Add some fairy mischief that mismatches lovers. And there’s a company of “rude mechanicals”–tradesmen preparing a skit for the imbedding wedding of the Athenian duke. Their eventual “Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe” is a classic comic treat, especially led by the likes of James FitzGerald, who doubles as the unbending Egeus in Athens and carpenter Quince, the
comic troupe’s director in the forest. Martin Giles, who could indeed play all the parts, appears as Nick Bottom, the weaver. At the top of his game, Giles delightfully weaves his comic threads as the eager actor who is transformed into a donkey. It’s a joy to see these two paired on stage. In Dream, there are even more reasons to relish performances.
The Duke and his captured Amazon bride Hippolyta are played by Allan Snyder in his PICT debut and the returning Shammen McCune. The pair apply their classic prowess to the fairy royalty of Oberon and Titania, a traditional doubling in Dream.
Snyder’s commanding stage presence and sonorous voice (an extra treat when he sings!) inform both roles. He’s a loving Duke and even an affectionate—albeit manipulative—Oberon. He nicely carrying traces of each role into the other.
McCune sparkles in sharing some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful poetry. Her Hippolyta displays streaks of independent thought, sometimes with just a perfectly aimed glance. McCune’s enchanting Titania is strong and steadfast in her cause—to keep the changeling boy coveted by Oberon while not simply falling under his charm. In a world of spells and power struggles, McCune maintains the dignity of both characters as they win growing respect from Snyder’s counterparts.
Retuning PICT actor Jacob Epstein possessed Puck, bringing spritely intent to Oberon’s edict that he meddle with the attractions among fairies and mortals and the young Athenians. Epstein’s graceful charm works its magic dramatically and comically.
The four lovers are played by emerging actors marking PICT debuts. They bring vitality and potential onto PICT’s stage while doubling as members of the bumbling tradesmen’s troupe.
Zoe Abuyuan is the persistent Helena and affable Snout. Saige Smith is a devoted Hermia and resourceful Starveling. Their vocal gymnastics and love-struck attitudes are endearing.
David Toole charms as Demetrius and eager Snug while Ryan Patrick Kearney is a spunky Lysander and befuddled Flute. Their cheek by jowl arguments are fun along with their competitive shirt-waving.
Titania’s fairies are portrayed by the youngest actors, bringing sweet speaking and singing voices and endearing attitudes to each distinctive fey creature. Christine Starkey returns to PICT to double with panache as Theseus’ maser of the revels Philostrate and the fairy Moth. Also returning are Abigail Gilman as Mustardseed, Caroline Lucas as Peaseblossom, and Grace Vensal as Cobweb. The quartet’s sweet singing of the “You spotted snakes” lullaby around Titania’s bower is charming.
Designer Keith A. Traux cunningly makes much of lighting that is subtle and well-placed through and around the white gossamer tubes. Lighting trusses tower over each end of the stage and white footlights edge the platform. Tall translucent fabric cylinders suggest the columns of Athens and the trees in and around which lovers and fairies romp. Likewise, thoughtfully engineered sound by Kris Buggey also features music and drumming effects.
Zoe Baltimore proves herself an emerging costume designer to watch. Her imaginative headdresses and accessories are not only resourceful but artistic, suggesting the natural world of the fairies and the work and class distinction others with subtle choices, all in shades of white. Simple and effective, her work is a terrific case study in how to create wearable art that’s functional and fun. Executed in the unitards for fairies, silky sleepwear for the young lovers, and painters’ pants for the tradesmen, the physicality supports characterizations and story with subtle choreography. The look is lovely and captivates without going over the top.
PICT’s Midsummer is a treasure for its deft design and Stanford’s clean direction. Shakespeare shines in casting a spell with his words and, once again, his text often rings as if it was written for today. Do get tickets to capture your own Midsummer experience in the warmth of the intimate Fred Rogers Studio (set with only 140 seats) and also to party with the company at PICT’s Cabaret Fundraiser on Sunday, Feb. 23.
Before you go, steep a cup of tea and drink in Titania’s prediction of how our seasons seem to have gone awry. And get ready for goosebumps when McCune shares these words…
“The human mortals want their winter here.
No night is now with hymn or carol blessed.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world
By their increase now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.”
Midsummer plays at WQED Studios through Feb. 29. For tickets and more information, visit PICT’S site.
Photography Credit: Keith A. Traux
Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh-based writer, publicist, actor, and singer, joined PITR as a writer and adviser in February 2016. She began performing and writing during high school in Indiana, PA. The Point Park journalism grad credits her Globe editor for first assigning her to review a play. Yvonne is grateful to Dr. Attilio Favorini for master’s studies at Pitt Theatre Arts, work at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, and believing in her Shakespearean journey. When not working with nonprofits, this lifelong chorister sings with Calvary UM Church’s annual Messiah choir. Having played Juliet’s Nurse for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, Yvonne is now seen in her solo shows, Mrs Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson: The Poet Lights the Lamp. Goals: See all of Shakespeare’s plays in production and memorize more Sonnets. Fave quotes: “Good deed in a naughty world,” “Attention must be paid,” and “A handbag?” Twitter @msshakespeare Facebook: PoetsCornerPittsburgh LinkedIn
Categories: Archived Reviews