Human Love In Fairy Land at Door Shakespeare

Jul. 6, 2016
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midsummer dream door shakes
In nearly 1,000 shows over a decade of reviewing theater in Wisconsin I don't ever recall seeing two different productions of the same show in consecutive months. I went in to Door Shakespeare's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream this month having just seen Ganymede Ensemble's production just last month. This is not an ideal situation. The one production can't help but shadow the production of the other.

Years ago, a Door Shakespeare production of Midsummer from years ago had been a longtime favorite of mine. The physical comedy of that staging was amazingly well-executed. The physical comedy might not have been as inspired with the current production, but the 2016 staging is exceedingly enjoyable for entirely different reasons. The show is directed by longtime Milwaukee Rep Artistic Director Joseph Hanreddy. As expected from a man who helped bring together a very solid resident acting program with the Rep, the character work in the ensemble of his Midsummer has a lush emotional dynamic. The production vividly delivers the romantic interactions that are the heart of a story set in a world of fairies and humans in a mystical forest.

Last month’s Ganymede Ensemble production in Milwaukee had Shakespeare’s fairy kingdom played entirely by young actresses. Watching Puck as an athletic young high school girl was a lot of fun...here we have a far more traditional Puck in Door County. Demetrios E. Troy doesn’t have the benefit of being an energetic, young woman entering Sophomore year of high school this September, but his experience as an Equity actor isn’t a bad substitute. He’s a rakishly charming guy who only happens to be capable of superhuman mischief. It’s a much more traditional reading of the character that is internally consistent. It’s a classic, traditional reading of the fairy kingdom that Hanreddy plays into with the fairy cast. The fairies here are played as very real people who only happen to be magical creatures. It’s a solidly respectable way of playing the fairy world in the play, but aside from a very powerful Titania, it isn’t terribly interesting.

Thankfully, Marti Gobel plays Titania with all of the authority that the queen of the fairies should have. This poses a bit of a challenge in the play’s resolution, which has her essentially casually shrugging and forgiving a really reprehensible husband. There’s a single moment near the end of the play that answers with a kind of power and intensity I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a production of Midsummer before. Marti Gobel is easily the most impressive thing about the fairies in this staging.

The fairies whimsically meddle with the lives of humans in a beautiful clearing in the woods in Door County with an exceedingly cozy, organic two-tiered set by scenic designer Aaron Kopec. Costuming is very practical for fairies and humans alike. The human costuming here feels very refreshingly vintage ‘90s. (Nice to see mortals in classic grunge: One of the lovers is even seen wearing a Mudhoney shirt.)

The ‘90s era fits the script quite well. It’s particularly refreshing to see the jilted Helena played as kind of a charming emo girl with thick-framed glasses. Anne E. Thompson’s performance in the role makes her a remarkably strong figure, which is quite an accomplishment for someone who speaks of longing to be a spaniel for the man she loves. Thompson has a few moments of real emotional depth with Carley Cornelius in the role of her childhood friend and rival lover Hermia. The connection between the two characters as brought to the stage by Cornelius and Thompson delivers a couple of very strong moments to the stage.  

The mechanicals attempting to render a crude drama for the stage who are mixed-up in the action always seem a bitlike dead weight. Thanks to Hanreddy and an inspired cast, the mechanicals and their play-within-a-play staging of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is actually pretty entertaining. Neil Brookshire plays a charmingly sensitive and egotistical pre-donkey-headed Bottom. Seasoned comic actor Norman Moses plays smartly to the role of playwright Peter Quince. The gently powerful form of James Carrington makes quite an impression as Frances Flute—a bellows mender who is asked to play female lead in the play. Carrington has quite a bit of heart in the role that serves to bring the emotionality of the play into even the final comic moments of a very satisfying comedy.

Door Shakespeare’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through Aug. 20 in Bjorklunden in Bailey’s Harbor..

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