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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
A darker Dream at Seattle Shakespeare
Arts & Entertainment
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A darker Dream at Seattle Shakespeare

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Intiman Playhouse
Through November 13


A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's frothier plays, a romp in the woods with fairies and lovers and magic flowers used to trick people, and a band of rustic theater-makers who barely manage their lines. The production now playing at Seattle Shakespeare Company has nary a froth in sight. While not laughless, it's definitely froth-free.

Director Sheila Daniels has attempted to take Dream into a darker, more mysterious, more dangerous place, with aspects that interest and intrigue and some that don't quite hit the mark. One of the most intriguing is a sex change for one of the pairs of lovers: Lysander becomes Lysandra, giving her love Hermia's father a really good reason to dislike Hermia's love for Lysandra.

An almost current aspect of the same-sex relationship then becomes Lysandra's stated desire to go away from Athens to a nearby city where Hermia and she can marry, outside of Athenian law - shades of moving to New York from New Jersey, for instance. However, at later points in the play, there is an odd awkwardness about the relationship, when Christine Marie Brown as Lysander with magicked eyes rejects Allison Strickland's Hermia for Terri Weagant's Helena. Brown is so forcefully rejecting that regaining their love is almost unbelievable, even by passing it off as a dream.

A dramatic, portentous beginning to the play, with a clearly foreign Hippolyta (Quadriyyah Shabazz) praying to her god, gives a great indication of the difference that Daniels means to emphasize. As does a swampy, ropy, textured set by Andrea Bush and dark lighting by Ben Zamora, with crickets and otherworldly noises provided by Robertson Witmer's sound design. Witmer composes some original songs, one of which introduces the fairies - transformed closer to the imp side of the ledger - with clever choreography credited to Daniels and Peter Dylan O'Connor.

Yet, as otherworldly as the visuals can be (including somewhat unwieldy costumes by Jennifer Zeyl), the workmanlike delivery of the text, and the less-than-noble presentation of both fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania (Reginald Andre Jackson and Amy Thone), Theseus (Mike Dooly) and Hippolyta undercut their presence.

Oberon never appears to be a desirable mate, and abuses his powers by conning Titania. There is no reason why Titania would get over being tricked into giving up her precious changeling child to him, so her power is distinctly reduced when she does anyway. Hippolyta is a stronger creature here, but most clearly can control the duke by sexual manipulation, which is not a strong basis for the relationship, either. Certainly, Daniels did not plan that, right? It appears unintentionally a by-product of the rest of the decisions.

The pivotal role of Puck is inhabited unevenly by talented Chris Ensweiler, along with his almost painful depiction of the small role of Philostrate. Philostrate's costume looks so much like it's going to fall off that Ensweiler can barely walk properly. Puck's costuming is cool and evocative, but the characterization is almost too animalistic, making Puck less of a thoughtfully waggish instigator and more a bumbling follower.

There are areas of great success and enjoyment. Weagant's deftly comic portrayal of Helena is wonderful and fresh, as are the comic foils of the band of local tradespeople who rehearse a show for presentation at court.

Led by Todd Jefferson Moore (Bottom), Kevin McKeon (Quince), Gordon Carpenter (Snout), Riley Neldam (Flute), and Zoey Cane Belyea (Snug) create a pretty hysterical version of Pyramus and Thisbe, with part of the fun being how deeply Quince and Snug involve themselves as spectators to their own play. Moore deftly skirts the edge of campiness, using a bombastic personality to justify his pushiness. Carpenter and Neldam milk their parts for all the laughs the Wall, Moon, and Thisbe can present.

For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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