"The excellent results in this ‘Midsummer” are very much due to a top-drawer, tightly knit ensemble, and that is a credit to Blixt in casting and directing the multi-layered story with so many players and plot twists." - Encore Michigan
"This is a lovely, light-hearted and lithe production that is certain to please. But for all its charming illusions, Director Blixt gives us intentional glimpses of the societal hardwood obscured by filmy layers of laughter. Fortunately the victory of love’s own magic over the strong arm of the law gets to the bottom – and the heart – of everything that is right with this production." - Detroit Examiner
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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Baughman Theatre - Jackson MI
Village Theater of Cherry Hill - Canton, MI
7/9/15 - 8/16/15
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
A Midsummer Night's Delight - David Kiley, Encore Michigan
When Shakespearean actors appear on stage in suits, corduroy jackets and sweater vests, amidst a forest setting, everyone’s “uh-oh” antennas should go up. It’s a hole in which the credibility of the cast and director begins the night. However, the cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson quickly ascends from the hole, and brings their audience along for an utterly memorable and delightful evening of laughs and smiles that brings this centuries-old text to life in a new and fresh way.
The plot of “Midsummer” is a bit convoluted, so unless you are a Bard aficionado a quick review of the plot summary is advised before the action starts. The story surrounds the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Matthew Fahey], and Hippolyta (Annie Keris), and expands to include the embattled passions of four young Athenian lovers—Hermia (Lydia Hiller), Lysander (Brandon St. Clair Saunders), Helena (Laurel Schroeder) and Demetrius (Milan Malisic), and a group of tradesmen turned actors, known as The Mechanicals, trying to put on a show inside the play. Of course, what gives the story, one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays to perform, the added oomph of the surreal are the faeries and spirits who inhabit the forest and manipulate the mortals.
The set is static throughout, a very simple forest settings with fabric curtains descending from the lights to represent trees, with a bit of green forest canopy laid in above and down stage to convey the right aura. The simplicity is a wise choice, as it gives the actors, 19 of them, room to romp, cavort, pine, fight and frolic. There are two stage balcony spaces that are used deftly as well.
The four intertwined lovers play wonderfully off one another as they sort out who they really want to marry (of course, not who their parents want them to), taking their passion to almost Three Stooges-like slapstick as when Hermia and Helena both hug their lovers legs as they get dragged around stage. The Stooges seem to be an influence on director Janice L. Blixt as she turned to Curley-and-Moe-like bits of business between Demetrius and Lysander as well. It all worked fine, and was not overdone, drawing great belly-laughs from the audience.
The Mechanicals worked as a tight and funny band within the cast, conjuring to mind at times the very best bits from Monty Python. It’s difficult not to call out Alan Ball as Bottom/the weaver, for his big stage presence and timing, and Edmund Alyn Jones who is funny and sweet, and adds polish to everything we have seen him in. But in truth all the Mechanicals were spot on. Blixt dances with a smidge too much modernity when the band takes out an iPhone and asks Siri for help with the moonlight, and when they share a tin of Altoids; it was a bit too much butter in the frosting but not so much to ruin the cake.
Costuming was deftly handled, with the mortal rich in modern dress, the Mechanicals in working-class/tradesmen clothes, and the faeries in…well…faerie dress and wearing bejeweled prosthetic ears. It sounds a bit of a mish-mosh, but actually worked perfectly. Shawn Pfautsch, who performed the title role of Hamlet in the festival last year, was an excellent Puck, a pivotal role to keep the play paced properly. David Blixt was commanding as Oberon, King of the Faeries.
The excellent results in this ‘Midsummer” production are very much due to a top-drawer, tightly knit ensemble rather than huge standout individual performances, and that is a credit to Blixt in casting and directing the multi-layered story with so many players and plot twists.
It should be said that this is a seasoned troupe of players with a terrific grasp of acting the Bard, and bringing the Elizabethan verse into a modern context that makes it wonderfully relevant and accessible to even someone whose closest brush with Shakespeare are the occasional send-ups on "The Simpsons."
Michigan Shakespeare Festival Brings Magical "Midsummer" to Canton - Patty Nolan, Detroit Examiner
You gotta see Alan Ball’s Bottom. And Evelyn Blixt’s Peaseblossom is pretty adorable, too.
In truth, each member of the cast of Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has specific moments when their stage business, gestures, physical prowess or physical comedy draw appreciative snickers, sighs, and snorts from the audience. And now that the 2015 MSF troupe has moved to its Canton location at the Village Theatre, east-siders can easily seize the opportunity to enjoy this award-winning MSF company in action.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of those rare plays that can be seen over and over again; there are so many ways to interpret and stage the story that it always seems fresh. “Midsummer” is, of course, all about enchantment – faerie magic, to be sure – but also the older and more universal magic of romantic love.
As the play opens, Theseus (Matthew Fahey) has won the hand of Hippolyta (Annie Keris) in war but now woos it with true affection. Hermia (Lydia Hiller) loves Lysander (Brandon St. Clair Saunders) against her father’s wishes and at the risk of her life. Demetrius (Milan Malisic) loves Hermia despite her rejection. Poor Helena (Laurel Schroeder)is smitten with an unrequited love for Demetrius that’s driving her to distraction. And all are imperiled by the wrath of Oberon, the Faery King, (David Blixt) whose unreasonable jealousy has estranged him from his beloved Queen Titania (Janet Haley), and caused him to set Puck (Shawn Pfautsch) on a binge of mischief-making.
Enter the rag-tag band of mummers – local workmen who’ve created their own “community theatre” production, hoping to perform their play at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. (David Turrentine as Quince, Dan Wilson as Snug, Edmund Alyn Jones as Snout, Eric Eilersen as Flute, Andy Head as Starveling, and, as noted, the brilliant Alan Ball as Bottom, present a gem-like ensemble all their own.) Of course they want to rehearse on the green sward of grass in the forest, where no one can spy on their clever devices. Of course, this clearing is the spot where the desperate lovers plan to meet and make their escape. And of course, this must certainly be a faery ring – the very spot where Moth (Sarah Pidgeon) and the other faery folk perform their nightly revels. As every fan of fairytales knows, whenever the filmy curtain that separates mortal beings from the immortals is torn asunder, mayhem and merriment are certain to follow.
“Midsummer” is always a treat, and this Michigan Shakespeare Festival production is gift wrapped in gauze, glitter, firefly light, wispy ground fog and dreamlike sounds and songs. (Scenic Design, Jeromy Hopgood; Lighting Design, Diane Fairchild; Music Composition and Sound Design, Kate Hopgood.) MSF Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt may dress her Athenians in modern garb, but the faeries, like the story itself, are classically timeless – with delicately pointed ears, filmy garments and brilliantly executed telekinetic powers. (Costume Design, Renae Skoog ; Properties, Betty Thomas; and Fight Choreography, David Blixt.)
This is a lovely, light-hearted and lithe production that is certain to please. But for all its charming illusions, Director Blixt gives us intentional glimpses of the societal hardwood obscured by filmy layers of laughter. Egeus (Rick Eva) will readily send his only daughter to her death rather than allow her to defy his will. The “good” Duke of Athens is ready to enforce a cruel, misogynistic law simply because he can’t imagine breaking with tradition. King Oberon steals the foundling godchild of his queen because he is threatened by any competition for her affections. And the hardworking, sincere little troupe of actors knows full-well that failure to please the court could mean destitution or even death. Even the Duke’s Major Domo (Daniel A. Helmer) does everything in his estimable power to prevent the humble group from mucking up the royal festivities.
Fortunately for the characters in this comedy, the love that inspires rebellion proves triumphant. And the victory of love’s own magic over the strong arm of the law gets to the bottom – and the heart – of everything that is right with this production. Don’t miss it.