Ganymede's Casually Dreamy Midsummer Night
Hart Park has a relaxed and sleepy spaciousness about it. The sun hangs low in the sky outside the stage of the Rotary Pavilion. Various gnomes in long, white beards and pointy, red hats mill about the area in anticipation of The Ganymede Ensemble’s free outdoor production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Ganymede Ensemble seems to consist largely of female high school students from Wauwatosa. The action onstage is distant enough and Lisa Quinn’s costuming subtle enough that male characters in the cast appear quite naturally men until they start speaking (for the most part.) The slightly disorienting nature of this effect serves to amplify the generally pleasant dreaminess of the mood.
Directors Amanda Marquardt and Kate Sarner have pieced together a cast consisting of young actors with a pretty vast range of different approaches to the text. Some expressions of love and emotion are manically overwrought while others seem quite natural and organic, fully integrated with the flow of events. This isn’t really a distraction,though. In a piece as phantasmic as A Midsummer Night's Dream, the weird range in emotional tempos feels perfectly at home.
Far from being obtrusive, the production integrates quite well with the overall background of Hart Park. Granted, the sound system pops and clicks with occasional dropouts in audio, but for the most part everything fits together between Hart Park and Ganymede. There's a rather large playground in the park. The sound of kids playing occasionally filter into the performance. Tosan joggers stroll by evidently oblivious to the bearded gnomes with pointy hats and various other costumed characters. The gnomes inhabit the edges of the space like they belong there. They can occasionally be seen meandering from here to there. Each one’s a little different. One of them carries a couple of cute, little plush sheep from place to place. The gnomes’ presence gives the fantastic end of things a very natural and lived-in kind of a feeling that can often be illusive in a production of Midsummer. It's a very casually dreamy experience. The perfect a relaxed evening in the park with Shakespeare.
There's some sparkling talent in the cast. I quite liked the regal precision that Livia Quinn carries with her as King Oberon. Bella Borgh was exquisite fun on the physical end of her portrayal of Puck. She was suitably whimsical as Oberon's loyal servant. Borgh shows talent for physical comedy on and offstage. Glance around the corners of the action and she might be, for instance, wrestling with a gnome’s little plush sheep are inspecting the foliage with great interest. Emma Kessler has a solid grasp of the bombastic arrogance of Nick Bottom, delivering lines with earnestness that serves the role quite well. The rest of the cast shows quite a bit of potential as well. It’s fascinating to watch young actors begin to connect-up with Shakespeare for the first time in a living outdoor venue like this.
The Ganymede Ensemble's free outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream continues. Two of the three performances remain: Jun 25 and 26. Both shows start around 7pm. The Ganymede staging runs roughly 90 minutes without intermission in Hart Park's Rotary Pavilion 6525 River Pkwy. For more information, visit the show's Facebook events page.