First performed circa 1594-96, Elizabethan poet and playwright dramatist William Shakespeare’s marvelous moonstruck comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is frequent fare on various Triangle stages; but none of these home-grown productions have conjured up anywhere near the theatrical magic on display last Thursday night, when the critically acclaimed Aquila Theatre of New York City cast its spell over N.C. State University Center Stage patrons in NCSU’s Stewart Theatre. Starting with the fantastical set devised by Aquila artistic director Peter Meineck and this show’s director, Kenn Sabberton, this modern-dress presentation was the stuff that dreams are made of. Heidi Buckingham and Louise Handford’s Technicolor costumes added eye candy to the visual feast.
Director Kenn Sabberton superbly orchestrated events in Athens, during the reign of duke Theseus (Andrew French) and his haughty duchess-to-be the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Jessica Tomchak), and events in the surrounding enchanted forest ruled by the fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania (French and Tomchak again). But Sabberton’s triumph is leavening the romantic intrigues of town and countryside with a positively hilarious subplot in which six decidedly rude mechanicals (Sarah Amankwah as Snug the Joiner, Matthew Clancy as Tom Snout the Tinker, Howard Crossley as Nick Bottom the Weaver, Andrew Finch as Peter Quince the Carpenter, Alinka Wright as Robin Starveling the Tailor, and Owen Young as Francis Flute the Bellows-Mender) rehearse “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe,” for possible performance at the upcoming nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta.
Howard Crossley was Bottom for the ages. His hee-haw hijinks after Oberon’s henchman Puck (Sarah Amankwah) magically transformed him into an ass are gut-busters. Tomchak is likewise highly amusing as the drugged Titania, who is enamored of an ass — by Puck — for his master Oberon’s amusement.
Amankwah’s pixilated performance as Puck is a scene-stealer; and she is also a stitch as Snug the Joiner, impishly impersonating a very strange Lion, and properly pithy as Philostrate, Theseus’ master of revels.
There is neither enough mustard nor a big enough bun for Howard Crossley’s hammy portrayal of Pyramus in the play-within-the-play, and Crossley also acquits himself well as the indignant father of the rebellious Hermia (Alinka Wright). Owen Young and Matthew Clancy are terrific as Lysander and Demetrius, fierce rivals for Hermia’s hand; and Jessica Tomchak is wonderful as the bewildered Helena, who — thanks to Puck’s mistake in drugging Lysander, stead of Demetrius — suddenly finds that Demetrius, who cruelly jilted her, and Lysander are now fighting tooth and nail for her affections.
With each actor and actress essaying multiple roles, and bringing each unforgettable character to full, glorious life, the Aquila Theatre’s robust rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a production that would have pleased the Immortal Bard. Bravo!
Aquila Theatre: http://aquilatheatre.com/ (official website).
The Tour: http://aquilatheatre.com/touring/ (official website).
The Play (e-text): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMNDF.html (1623 First Folio, edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell, courtesy the University of Virginia) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMids.html (1866 Globe Edition, edited by William George Clark and William Aldis Wright, also courtesy UVa).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Midsummer/nights.html (Utah Shakespearean Festival).
Shakespeare Resources: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/index.html (University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).
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