By Maria Rodriguez
Shakespeare is not sedate, but alive and singing at the Shakespeare Folger Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Under a moonlit night the players contemporize the foolishness of love and rapture in a theater space meant to hearken back to the older times of Shakespeare himself.
If you ever thought that Shakespeare was meant to be pronounced Laurence Olivier style, with a wary eye grinning evilly over the enthralled (read: sleepy and confused) audience, this production will turn that notion on its head.
The gymnastic energy of the actors, notably present in Eric Hissom’s Oberon, whose grey hair belies his springing movements, makes the whole play just, so, exciting! This thrilling physicality enlivens the play and is present in all members of the cast. Puck (the one that utters the famed line “Lo, what fools these mortals be!” that everyone remembers from highschool English), is played by Erin Weaver with a brash dynamism. She makes Puck a cross between a tricksy Peter-Pan and an even tricksy-er Tinker Bell. Weaver speaks experience and comfort, dominating both the stage and audience with an ease which demonstrates well that she can hold her own. She does have several Helen Hayes nominations and a few of their awards to prove it. (Note: the Helen Hayes awards are awards given for excellence in regional D.C. theater.)
Adding to that, are insertions of contemporary musical references; argue over this point dramaturgs, but it makes the play extra giggle-worthy for the average audience member by tying Shakespeare’s fluid language to a more concrete contemporary experience.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
plays out like a rom-com. There are love triangles and quadrangles, angry parents, thwarted love, and a hilarious side story, which all end in a picture perfect fashion. Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia’s dad wants her to marry Demetrius, who used to be engaged to Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius but is also Hermia’s best friend. Also there are fairies.
Hermia (Betsy Mugavero) and Lysander (Adam Wesley Brown) are portrayed as a hipster couple, just dying to break free from the parental and societal yoke. There’s even a nice musical interlude where they duet a lullaby together, Hermia singing and Lysander playing a ukulele.
The height of comedy however is firmly in the hands of Holly Twyford who plays Bottom, the heroic and foolish stage actor. She’s another veteran of the Helen Hayes Awards. If Puck dominated the stage with her lithe and nimble action, Twyford’s Bottom was the looked for character even when absent. She carried the laughs of the night without shielding the other actors from audience attention. A noble feat.
The Folger is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a year of events in honor of the bard. While the college student-friendly Pay-What-You-Can night has passed, there are still the free events which the Folger library puts on every Friday.