Chicago Theater Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Polarity Ensemble Theatre at Greenhouse)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 23, 2016

in Theater-Chicago

A DOO-WOP DREAM

He’s going strong for a guy who died 400 years ago today. This, of course, is easily William Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, if only because it delivers some magical goods: There’s an epiphany near the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when the mixed-up quartet of wayward lovers who’ve been confoundedly mashed up over the course of a long July night discover they’re awake! They jump for joy over the deliverance. It’s an absolutely natural response to the very complex “dream” from which they escape—and it confirms Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s interesting invocation of 1960s’ doo-wop hit singles, so much feckless fun.

Nicola Rinow (Helena) and Bryan Breau (Demetrius). Photo by Richard Engling

That nearly-narrow escape follows repeated insane incidents. The fairies of the Athenian woods busily stirred up spells that tested the fickle ardor of these four young “dreamers.” Contagious and at several times uncontrolled, a flower’s power has affected both semi-mythical courtiers and ham-handed city folks out to rehearse a silly comedy (only to discover that their hammiest actor has become an ass).

Miriam Reuter (Puck). Photo by Nicole Lewter.

Meanwhile, the industrious fairies must work out their own internecine quarrel until Titania yields to Oberon the Indian boy in a custody battle that has put all of nature and all four seasons out of sorts. In turn, these Eisenhower Era lovers must sort themselves out, venting old grievances in order to confirm their current romantic liaisons.

McKenna Kirchner (Peasblossom), Laura Sturm (Titania), Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom) and Madisen Dempsey (Mustardseed). Photo by Richard Engling

These 130 minutes of silly doings are thinly illustrated by Buck Blue’s grade school-pageant set design, wooden columns that revolve from bricks to crude trees. So much for suggesting Shakespeare’s “smiles of a summer night.” The key line, “How quickly bright things come to confusion,” must rely on the action alone.

Laura Sturm (Titania) and Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom). Photo by Richard Engling

Ann Keen’s staging maintains a level of competence among the actors from which no one gets to soar. Jeremy Thompson’s Theseus ably distills the wonderful speech about the ties that bind lovers, lunatics and poets. Jen Mathews’s Hippolyta blends regality and mythology in every stately gesture. As the fairy feuders Titania and Oberon, Laura Sturm and Joey Banks sometimes manage to italicize the poetry.

Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom) and Madisen Dempsey (Mustardseed). Photo by Richard Engling

The other members of the court include, of course, four seemingly interchangeable lovers who must fight to prove they’re not. Jos N. Banks, Bryan Breau, Hilary Holbrook and Nicola Rinow make adequate pawns for Miriam Reuter’s sprightly spirit Puck. Dolled up in 60s’ slumber-party frocks and glitzy pseudo prom dresses, the fairies cavort enough to make their own moonlight.

Jeremy Thompson (Theseus), Jos N. Banks (Lysander) and Charley Jordan (Egeus). Photo by Richard Engling

Among the “rude mechanicals,” Keith Cavanaugh stentorian Bottom seemed to think he was funnier than he was and, where it crucially counts with this part, Cavanaugh betrayed little of the dreamer’s remorse that the weaver feels as he dimly recalls being feted by the most beautiful fairy in Greece. Given this chance to be more than just a blowhard actor and not just convulsively overwrought in the jocund “Pyramus and Thisbe” travesty, he didn’t quite rise to the Bard’s occasion. The most touching ingredients here are the jukebox hits, including “Dream Lover” and “One Fine Day,” intoned in heavenly harmonies by the choral fairies.

Aaron Wertheim (Flute), Charles Askenaizer (Snout) and Keith Cavanaugh (Bottom). Photo by Nicole Lewter.

In any case Shakespeare remains the rising tide that lifts all boats. His Dream teems with marvelous make-believe, the countryman’s palpable love for summer’s glorious overbirth, and his compassionate look at the well-deserved mistakes that lovers make when caught up in so much creation.

Aaron Wertheim (Flute) and Kevin M. Grubb (Peter Quince). Photo by Richard Engling

photos by Richard Engling and Nicole Lewter
poster artwork by Z.L. Feng

Hilary Holbrook (Hermia) and Jos N. Banks (Lysander). Photo by Richard Engling

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Polarity Ensemble Theatre
Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N Lincoln Ave.
ends on May 22, 2016
for tickets call 773.404.7336 or visit Greenhouse
for more info, visit PET

for more theater info, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 2 comments }

James Sherwood February 2, 2017 at 5:07 pm

Hello,

I built the Midsummer Night’s Dream set for this production. I was wondering if I could get in contact with somebody that would have a picture of the full set. Thank you.

Editor-in-Chief Tony Frankel February 2, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Contact the theater at the link above, James.

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