By Jay Handleman, Herald Tribune, Mar. 16, 2018
Stage II production of ‘a Midsummer Night’s Dream’ runs through April 8
I usually get nervous about community theater productions of Shakespeare plays because the area’s large pool of talented actors don’t often get to work with the tricky language and wordplay of the Bard. That can lead directors to raise the shtick level, at least in the comedies, to find laughs that should come from the words more than the actions.
None of that is a concern with the colorful and often inventive production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Venice Theatre’s Stage II. While it doesn’t have the magical outdoor setting at Selby Gardens that the FSU/Asolo Conservatory used last year, it does have a set by Tim Wisgerhof that creates its own kind of surprise-filled playground with impactful lighting by John Michael Andzulis.
Walls and tapestries are colorfully spray-painted like graffiti with images of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and other characters that give it the look of a cityscape. Later, the action moves to a forest run inhabited by a mischievous group of fairies.
It’s a gorgeous treatment that works well for the in-the-round staging. Director Murray Chase makes sure that everyone has a view of something interesting almost all the time.
Costume designer Meg Ferguson matches the colorful spirit of Wisgerhof’s set with her own clever costumes, particularly the flower and plant-inspired outfits for Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies, who are active participants in the follies of the night.
The play sends four young lovers into the fairy forest before the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Lysander is in love with Hermia, but she has been promised by her father to the besotted Demetrius, who is loved by Helena. Oberon wants to set things right among the four, but Puck puts the magic potion on the wrong man, causing all the attention to fall on Hermia. And Oberon plays a trick on his wife, making her fall in love with Bottom, a member of an acting troupe who is temporarily turned into a donkey.
Alison Pouty has fun in her dual role as the playful Puck, who delights in cavorting around the stage wreaking havoc among the humans, and the regal Hippolyta. As Titania, Kathryn Parks has a similar royal air, but she’s at her best and most relaxed when fawning over Joe Brunner as Bottom. Douglas Landin has an uncharacteristically stern demeanor as Oberon.
Though he could be even broader at times, Brunner captures the spirit of a hammy actor who thinks he can do it all in his troupe’s performance of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” His fellow actors — played by Cheryl Andrews, Jeff Cima, Gary Grossman, Kelly Duyn and Dakota Murrell — are effectively awkward, taking on their different roles with enthusiasm but an intentional lack of finesse.