WESTERLY — There are so many good things to say about the Colonial Theatre's stellar (and very funny) production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," beginning with the twinkly, enchanting set, designed by Baron Pugh.
The set is a dreamy delight (in a perfect setting of course) and fits Athens — and the forest — within the bedroom of a little girl, thus setting the stage (pun intended) for the director's unique take on the play, which centers on the "changeling."
Although the changeling rarely appears on stage in traditional productions, and not at all in Shakespeare's original, the little girl changeling in the Colonial production is front and center and remains on stage throughout the play.
Director Michael Scholar Jr., who played the role of the Changeling Child himself once upon a time when he was a child back in Canada (in a production directed by his father,) directs the play as a fantasy, seen through the eyes of the little girl changeling who is the character at the center of an argument between Oberon (played brilliantly and with a Jamaican lilt, by David Heron,) and Titania (Jen Olivares.)
(In the first several productions Scholar's daughter, Alicia, played the child, but since he is in the process of moving from Vancouver to Arizona, with his daughter in tow, Clara Serrano and Cassiopeia Nicholas will share the role for the remaining performances and alternate performances.)
The child is the first character we meet, followed by the trickster Puck (played acrobatically by the amazingly gifted and captivating Nora Fox) who is the child's imaginary friend (and Oberon's servant, and also plays Philostrate.) The child closes the door on her screaming parents and escapes by reading the play to Puck (remember to notice the moments she opens and shuts the book.) As the two sit upon the big double bed, the audience is led into the story, as if walking into a picture book, or fairy tale, and into the the Athenian Court where Theseus the Duke of Athens (also played brilliantly by Heron,) is preparing to marry Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons (a double role, also, for Olivares, who is excellent.)
Egeus, a nobleman (Lori Evans) comes to Theseus with a complaint about his daughter, Hermia (a scrappy, scratchy-voiced Ann Paratore) who wishes to marry her love, Lysander (Henry Gardner) but Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius (Daniel Duren.) Theseus says that Hermia must either obey her father’s will and marry Demetrius or she must live the rest of her life in a convent. Unhappy with this outcome, Hermia and Lysander decide to elope into the forest together. Before they leave they tell Hermia’s best friend, Helena (played marvelously by Alana Rader,) about their secret plan. Helena is in love with Demetrius and plots to tell him that Hermia is eloping, in the hope that he might return her feelings and give up Hermia.
Meanwhile, a group of amateur actors, known as the mechanicals, meet in the forest with plans to put on a play for the duke’s wedding. Their director, Quince (Marion Markham, wearing a hard hat and yellow, construction-workers vest and speaking with a tough-guy, New Yawk-ish accent, is hilarious) hands out all the parts. One of the actors, Nick Bottom (Karack Osborn, like the character he plays, is a stage hog, but in the very, very best way and practically steals the show) is very enthusiastic and wants to play more than just the part of that has been given to him, much to Quince’s annoyance. The group arranges to meet again at the duke’s oak for their first rehearsal.
In the forest, Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies, are arguing about which of them should oversee the child. Oberon wants the child for himself but Titania won’t give him up so Oberon plans revenge. He sends Puck to fetch a magical flower whose juice he will squeeze into Titania's eyes, making her fall in love with the first person she sees upon waking. While Puck is searching for the flower, Oberon sees Demetrius being cruel to Helena as she swears her undying love to him. So Oberon tells Puck to use this same flower on Demetrius to make him fall in love with Helena. When Titania awakes, she sees Bottom (who was turned into a donkey by Puck) and falls for the tradesman. Meanwhile, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and when Lysander awakes, he falls madly in love with Helena and chases her about the stage, leaving Hermia alone and confused. Demetrius also gets juiced by the magic flower, also falls for Helena, who, incredulous at the changes in the men's behavior, believes she is being mocked.
Eventually all is set right and the tradesmen perform their play during the duke's wedding.
As predicted by Rader, who also serves as a co-artistic director of the Colonial's Education Program, the "A Midsummer Night's Dream" cast is strong and ultra talented. Heron, a Jamaican born actor and Shakespeare veteran who has also appeared Off Broadway and regionally in many other Shakespearean productions including "Romeo and Juliet," "The Winter's Tale," "The Tempest," "Hamlet," and "Othello," certainly is a powerhouse. I couldn't get enough of his Shakespeare spoken with a Caribbean accent.
In an interview with "Broadway World," Heron said, "The play, though comedic in nature, does have some very important things to say about love, forgiveness, and — being largely set in a forest — about the environment too."
"Since our children will ultimately inherit the world we leave behind," he said, "to see the child in this production learning these lessons as the audience does is a uniquely moving and satisfying experience."
Also satisfying is watching all the children participate, especially the Dancing Fairies (Christina Moore and Hope Urbonas, both local youngsters) who dazzle as they dance up the aisles twirling ribbons wearing the most charming costumes. The four other fairies, Peaseblossom (Grace West,) Cobweb (Truly Siskind Weiss,) Moth (Martha Brewster,) and Mustardseed (local actors Dylan Tallardy/Tucker Moody) are also exceptional. The cast also includes Chris Cornwell (Snout,) Erica Phoebus (Flute,) and Patrick Mark Saunders (Snug.)
Strong, satisfying (and memorable) are Fox (who somersaults and cartwheels across the stage with great skill,) Markham (she always is,) Osborn (his Bottom is superb) and the live, original music. Many of the cast members play their own instruments.
Before heading to the park to see this magical, well-performed, highly entertaining version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Wilcox Park (and I strongly recommend you make a point of seeing it) it might be helpful to have a quick refresher about the plot, subplots and characters in the play known as one of Shakespeare's most renowned and iconic comedies.
An ideal setting with an ideal cast makes for a smash summertime hit. Get to the park early to enjoy the offerings from local actors and musicians during the Green Show that takes place before every performance. Refreshments, merchandise, and tickets for a raffle full of prizes from local merchants and vendors will also be for sale.