Theater

A Dream Come True: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fantasy come alive

Shakespeare wove wisps of fanciful fairies, enchanted forests and dreams of love throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but Director Fred Sullivan Jr. and The Gamm Theatre pushed the fantasy world into overdrive for a production that teleports the audience to a land of sweetness, laughter and passion.

Gamm ends its 37th season with its first-ever production of the Bard’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, a playful poke at human nature and the transformative, if angst-riddled, nature of love and desire. Set in ancient Greece, the storyline centers on four young adults caught in the constraints of tradition and the practice of arranged marriages. One such proposal is unwanted by the daughter, Hermia, who loves another man, Lysander. It also makes Demetrius, the man chosen for Hermia, unavailable for a swooning Helena.

Taking matters into their own hands, the four flee to the forest and stumble into a magical world in which the fairy king and queen are fighting, a bumbling troupe of actors is honing the next performance and the whimsical sprite Puck flits in between it all, causing a ruckus and obstructing the natural progression of love.

What seems like a children’s tale springs to glistening life on a wonderfully simple Gamm stage as an animated cast zips from one end to the other, up ramps, onto spiraling platforms and under scaffolding. The basic set helps Sullivan coach the antics of his ensemble, keeping them moving freely and seemingly descending from the air on wings. On either side of the stage, a backdrop of paper lanterns of differing sizes brighten, dim and change colors with the daylight and collective mood of each scene. The effect centers the audience’s attention right where it belongs: on the magical story.

The actors delightfully ply Shakespeare’s words for maximum effect as spells turn the lovers’ affections to other people, a changeling is nurtured by the forest sprites and trickery abounds. At various points, several are tapped for powerful soliloquies that create hysterical or moving moments. At one point, Gamm Artistic Director Tony Estrella, as a pompous member of the acting troupe, dons a donkey head for his play and manically disembowels himself while braying. The symbolism comes to life brilliantly.

One of Sullivan’s best moves with his cast was to have Deb Martin portray the fairy king Oberon and Michael Liebhauser – complete with beard – assume the role of fairy queen Titania. Martin is outstanding as she slinks around the stage, observing the humans and ruling her kingdom. Her diction – in act two, she draws out the four-word question “What hast thou done?” twice as long as needed – highlights the power of delivery in setting a mood. At another point, she is invisible to the lovers yet peers right into their faces and stalks behind them onstage. The audience watches rapt, as if seeing special effects in a movie.

Perfectly executed delivery is a lesson Mark Pierre has also mastered. As Puck, Pierre is perfectly impish, attacking his lines with a childishness that adds depth to his performance. He sasses Oberon, whines and gleefully casts spells with the spirit of a Disney character.

Only a few moments – do the forest sprites really need to rock out at the end of act one? – and a few acting mannerisms – Angelique C’Dina as Mermia and Nora Eschenheimer as Helena are occasionally too overly dramatic in their flouncing and chest-beating – are less than perfect in this production. But even those cannot disrupt a magical night at the theater.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on stage through May 29. For more information, go to www.gammtheatre.org.  

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