- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Yesterday’s mighty winds rolled into town as if conjured up by malevolent magic. Perhaps this was the work of crafty Oberon, King of the Fairies, who is currently holding court in the Shakespeare Theatre’s wildly witty new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Reconceptualized as a kind of enchanted modernism, director Mark Lamos’ update of the Bard works in ways that such improvements rarely do.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” might just be the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays in this country. It is endlessly staged by amateurs and professionals from coast to coast. Audiences of all ages are drawn to the play’s affectionate humor, hilarious slapstick and goofy, intertwining love stories.

Like the Three Stooges, here are adults making complete asses of themselves, sometimes quite literally. Children love the play for this nonsense and will not be damaged in the slightest by the small sprinkling of the Bard’s bawdy japes.

While Shakespeare’s brilliant script has always driven this play, a magical unrealism has always driven its spirit. Mr. Lamos captures this, aided and abetted by set designer Leiko Fuseya and costume designer Constance Hoffman. Together they have created a misty otherworld where winged and sooty modernist fairies tumble and turn in the air, swimming through the mists of time, appropriately to the music of Saint-Saens’ shimmering “Fish” passage from “Carnival of the Animals.” Meanwhile, Oberon and his disgruntled queen Titania materialize as towering giants, taking on more human forms as they weave their wondrous spells.

The fairies are counterpointed by the earthbound mortals who are clad like Roaring ‘20s deco-dandies, but their stories mix and merge with their dreams, and it is hard to tell what reality is operating here, much as the Bard intended.

In a nice bit of casting, Mr. Lamos has Mark H. Dold and Lisa Tharps playing both mortal king Theseus and queen Hippolyta as well as the parallel roles of Oberon and Titania, creating an obvious but enchanting psychological mix. While their mortal characters are a bit dry, Miss Tharps and Mr. Dold get to strut their stuff in the fairy world, and they make the most of the opportunity. When they aren’t making mischief, Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck, picks up the slack. Puck is sensitively portrayed by Daniel Breaker, who plays his, well, puckish character with charm and delicacy.

As the young lovers, Noel True, Paris Remillard, Kate Nowlin, and Paul Witthorne are marvelously over-the-top, playing their characters like a bunch of prep school children driven mad by an adult world that ignores their capricious feelings. In a brilliant piece of slapstick stagecraft, they get to stage their final battle of mistaken identities in a forest pool, turning this massive lovers’ spat into a wet T-shirt contest.

But the best and funniest moments of this production belong, as always, to the rude tradesmen who put on “the most lamentable comedy” of Pyramus and Thisby as the final wedding entertainment. It’s tough to make this play-within-a-play fresh and new, but once again, this production scores.

Casting old Shakespeare Theatre hands David Sabin as Nick Bottom and Edward Gero as Peter Quince, Mr. Lamos rounds out this rustic troupe-within-a-troupe with Greg Felden (Francis Flute), Brad Allen Waller (Snug), Ryan Artzberger (Snout), and John Livingstone Rolle (Robin Starling). All combine to mount perhaps the most inventively sidesplitting “Pyramus” this reviewer has seen in over two dozen performances of this work. It’s the right payoff at the right time.

****

WHAT: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by William Shakespeare.

WHERE: The Shakespeare Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW.

WHEN: Through Jan. 4. Contact theater for curtain times.

TICKETS: Tickets are $16 to $66.

INFORMATION: Call 202/547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.


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