“Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down,
I am feared in field in town.
Goblin, lead them up and down.”
— Puck; Act III, Scene II
These lines, spoken by the mischievous Puck are musical and magical — almost Seussian in nature — and beg to be delivered to kids. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is messy and wild and wondrous, as good fairy tales must be. Known for its quartet of squabbling lovers, sextet of backwoods clowns, and a sparring pair of fairy royalty, it continues to be the most frequently performed play in the world.
Theatre Raleigh’s 2017 Family Series production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is co-created by Lauren Kennedy Brady and Morgan Parpan. Using Bill Tordoff’s A Thirty-Minute Dream as a springboard, they have invigorated a well-trodden play, emphasizing its rousing sense of rhythm and bewilderment. Its speed and comedic precision is more Reduced Shakespeare Company than Royal Shakespeare Company.
Director/choreographer Lauren Kennedy Brady’s production manages to highlight every major Midsummer event and character in a brisk 60 minutes. Bits that are funny and to-the-point are in. Anything repetitive or deeply reflective is out, while all sexual innuendo and naughty language has been deleted. Absurd characters play well with young audiences in particular, and William Shakespeare’s play is already replete with them. Brady and Morgan Parpan need only trim the fat and fire up the grill.
If Midsummer’s plot — a confusing, winding terrain — is to be traversed by children, some clarification is required. The Fourth Wall is entirely absent; and a blending of modern speech, the Bard’s words, and audience asides provide supplemental insight. A new character, The Boy (played by a confident William Kalland) occasionally stops the show to ask clarifying questions on the audience’s behalf.
The characters in this adaptation openly confuse Hermia and Helena, something audiences have done for four centuries. Those familiar with the original play are delighted when this version’s dialogue intentionally mixes up the genders and names of characters, as we are wont to do when reading this play.
Serving as a master of ceremonies is Ben Redding, who doubles as Egeus and Puck. Redding interacts with the audience with the energy of a summer-camp counselor, while Tim Caudle’s Oberon is uniquely jovial and likeable.
Meagan Chieppor delivers a deliciously quirky performance as the melodramatic Hermia, while Victoria Moore plays Helena with robust and amusing physicality. Liam Yates puts his diminutive stature to good use as a hilariously almost-ferocious Bottom. Though most of Francis Flute’s lines are gone, Melvin Gray steps forward as one of the cast’s most engaging performers.
A trio of harmonizing, hip-hop dancing fairies help transition between scenes and give the production much of its energy: Riley Campbell, Kameron Draper, and Chloe Calhoun.
Upon stepping into the Kennedy Theatre, we feel like members of Peter Pan’s tribe of Lost Boys. Scenic designer Tim Domack has transformed the entire space into an immersive magical forest with trees, foliage, and a mysterious cave. Floor-level cushions are available for the youngest in the audience, who are likely to be addressed by a character or two.
Christina Munich’s lighting design is appropriately hyperactive and vibrant, with only an occasional distracting choice. Sound designer Bryan Hitzigrath is working with rapid-fire music cues throughout. Lauren Kennedy Brady has chosen a wide array of music to liven up the piece, some sung by the cast, including the work of Lady Gaga, Sia, Loverboy, and Justin Bieber.
Costume designer Elaine Brown has created a charming melting pot of styles. She mixes fairy-tale princes with street dancers, and Elizabethan dress with prom-queen dresses.
Lauren Kennedy Brady and Morgan Parpan have created one of the funniest and most refreshing Shakespearean adaptations I have seen in quite some time. While this Midsummer is not designed for the Shakespearean purist, it serves as a whimsical and delightful hour of theater for all. It is A Midsummer Night’s Dream like none other.
SECOND OPINION: March 9th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com review by Sarah Lindenfeld Hall for “Go Ask Mom”: http://www.wral.com/review-theatre-raleigh-s-a-midsummer-night-s-dream/16575485/; and March 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article136025458.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 12th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/03/theatre-raleighs-a-midsummer-nights-dream-is-lots-of-fun-for-old-and-young/.)
Theatre Raleigh presents A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at 6 p.m. March 16 and 17 and 3 and 6 p.m. March 18 and 19 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 children).
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S610000036KjIEAU.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or email@example.com.
2017 FAMILY SERIES: https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595-96 comedy): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Midsummer_Night’s_Dream (Wikipedia).
Script: http://web.archive.org/web/20080504220930/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMNDF.html (1623 First Folio Edition, courtesy the University of Virginia in Charlottesville) and http://web.archive.org/web/20080821025001/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMids.html (1866 Globe Edition, also courtesy UVa).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Midsummer/nights.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Lauren Kennedy Brady (director and choreographer and Theatre Raleigh artistic director): http://laurenkennedy.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=70340 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2757787/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/slaurenkennedy (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/slaurenkennedy (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Kennedy (Wikipedia).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is a local theater actor, regular crew member, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. degree in Special Education from East Carolina University. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can also find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt, on Twitter as @dkbritt85, and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.