By: Alex Spindler ~Arts & Entertainment Editor~
A gaggle of medically-induced lovers, an aptly-named thespian who acts like an ass and a copious amount of conjuring make up the wonder that is the Xavier University Department of Music and Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This raucous production, directed by Jeremy Dubin of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, combines modern adaptation with enthusiastic performances to create the finest production yet staged by the department.
Set in an enchanted forest just outside of Athens, “Midsummer” contains multiple plot points that seamlessly overlap, due in large part to Dubin’s direction and the clarity in the cast’s diction. The first conflict finds Hermia and Lysander (played by junior Ellen Godbey and sophomore Mac Blais, respectively) escaping the tutelage of Hermia’s father to marry in secrecy. Meanwhile, Helena (played by sophomore Katie Mitchell), though excited for Hermia’s imminent betrothal, constantly pines for the love of Demetrius (played by senior Sterling Shaw).
All four lovers enter the forest where mayhem and chaos ensues à la Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Additionally, there is a crop of less-than-adequate actors attempting to stage a disastrous play, a parallel story of a mortal and immortal royal couple and a few n’er-do-well fairies that appear to be sexually starved.
In its attempts to recreate a forest rave setting, this “Midsummer” achieved this effect thanks in large part to senior Alice Trent’s clever and meticulous lighting design.
Xavier alumna Katie Rossmann’s costume design also smartly dressed each character very well with a few surprises to boot — zoom in on the glowin- the-dark undershirts and neon colors.
The choice of a proscenium presentation versus a thrust stage allowed for the audience to have a better view of all that was going on and allowed for better sound quality overall. The technical aspects helped to make Shakespeare’s dense syntax more exciting, while Dubin’s subtle inclusion of modern attributes — iPad’s, ’90s pop songs and contemporary choreography — took the production from good to great. However, there are not enough words to describe the buoyant energy and fluidity of this cast.
Not only did these actors and actresses retain the Shakespearean vernacular but they also infused each phrase with purpose, direction and most importantly, humor. More specifically, sophomore Alex Roberts, who played the devious Puck, stood out as the wisecracking trickster who glided effortlessly with her Heelys.
Sophomore Hannah Sheppard, who played the dual role of mortal queen Hippolyta and immortal queen Titania, regally shone in every scene that she was in. The four lovers (Godbey, Blais, Mitchell and Shaw) nicely fused jealousy and love in the same stroke.
Finally, the biggest source of laughter came from junior Patrick McWilliams, who hilariously stole the show as Bottom, the egotistical alpha male of the troupe of mechanics. Mirroring other such pompous yet comical Shakespearean supporting roles like Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” McWilliams never disappointed and proved to be a constant crowd favorite.
To put it simply, this “Midsummer” scored on every level. The combination of technical aspects, energy, slick direction and exuberant performances made this “Midsummer” fresh from head to toe.
If these are the innovations that are reshaping even Shakespeare’s most performed works, then the Bard’s longevity has nothing to worry about. For more information on other Deparment of Music and Theatre performances, visit xavier.edu/theatre.