A Shakespeare play in old English is a challenge under any circumstances, but performing a 428-year-old comedy with actors under the age of 18 is particularly impressive. Children’s Theatre of Annapolis’ (CTA) latest offering, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is a delightful and hilarious treat for a cold winter’s night. Director Allyson Tierney uses her Shakespearean background to guide the actors well. Although Old Englishman can be dense, there is never any doubt as to the meaning of the words as conveyed with emotion and physical comedy.
The opening scene, complete with a boy sleeping in a bed, emerging ground fog, and characters silently crossing the stage, sets the mood beautifully. The bed eventually rises and hovers in front of the moon throughout the action to remind us that all is a dream.
…is a delightful and hilarious treat for a cold winter’s night.
Shakespeare’s plots are nothing if not tangled. His comedies often have unrelated groups of people intermingling as they are lost in the wood for various reasons. The same is true here as the play’s many subplots are set into motion by the impending marriage of Theseus, King of Athens (Peter Cardillo), and Hyppolyta (Madeleine Prost). Egeus (Ali Schropp), is frustrated by his daughter Hermia’s refusal to marry Demetrius, his chosen spouse for her. He asks the King to intervene and impose the death penalty if she does not comply with his wishes. Hermia (beautifully played by Brenna C. McGuire) loves Lysander (Teagan Verow McLaughlin), and has no intention of acquiescing to her father’s demands. The lovers make a plan to run away through the wood to safety. Demetrius (Robert Herzog) has dumped his old flame Helena (Mia Rinehart) to marry Hermia, and love-sick Helena is having none of it.
Meanwhile, Oberon, the king of the forest spirit world, is having trouble with his queen Titania over a changeling that she dotes over and will not give over to the King. Oberon (played with imposing seriousness by Helena Gray) is so angry he decides to teach Titania (Erica Herdrich) a lesson by casting a spell with a special flower so she will fall in love with the first creature she sees after she wakes from a nap.
To complicate things, a group of laborers, dubbed ‘rude mechanicals’ by the fairy Puck (played energetically by Finn Hintermeister), is practicing a play in the forest to be performed for the royal wedding. They are a little dense and hilarious as they try to work out their parts. They are each quirky in their own way. The director (Ali Schropp) is frustrated by the lack of cooperation from his little troupe and each actor shows why they should not be actors. Jeremiah Gilbert is outstanding as Bottom, assigned as the tragic lead of their play but insists that he can play most of the other parts as well. He becomes entangled in the various lovers’ plots when Puck mischievously changes his head to that of a donkey and the potion-laden Titania wakes and falls in love with him. Meanwhile, Puck bounces around the stage causing trouble as though his legs have springs.
The humor of this play most often falls to the physical comedy of the actors, and under the keen direction of Tierney and help from choreographer Ashley Gilbert, the actors prove they are more than up to the task. The rude mechanicals are true comedians. Bottom, as ham extraordinaire, takes several minutes and continuous self-inflicted wounds to kill himself, just so he can stay onstage. Elliot Johnson, who plays a wall, is deadpan and hilarious without a word. The lion (Zoe Fabian) is equally terrible and delightful. All of the mechanicals are divertingly mugging in the background in their play-within-a-play performance.
Other humor comes from the star crossed lovers wandering lost in the wood. Puck has mistakenly given the potion to Lysander and then Demetrius who both fall in love with Helena, who is confused and angry and feels they all are mocking her. Rinehart plays Helena with heart-felt desperation we can all relate to. Helena and Hermia fight, and Lysander and Demetrius have ridiculous pushing and shoving matches as they fawn over the wrong woman.
The costumes, designed by Margaret Wright, are a large help in sorting out the characters and plots of this play. The main (human) characters are decked out in colorful, modern-day clothing that makes them stand out from the fairy world beautifully. The fairy costumes are otherworldly and make the sprites look as though they have risen fully-formed from the set. As they go about their eavesdropping and mischievousness ways they blend and fade beautifully into the background.
CTA’s well-done production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” shows us why Shakespeare’s plays have endured and delighted for over 400 years.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through February 18, 2024 at Children’s Theatre of Annapolis, 1661 Bay Head Road, Annapolis MD 21409. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 410-757-2281, or go online.