Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 8, 2008

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Hartford Stage
through October 5
By Bernadette Johnson

“Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down.” What the mischievous Puck has planned for Shakespeare’s crisscrossed lovers is a mere fragment of the merry chase Shakespeare leads us on in this, his great dream play. He offers us not merely a dream, but dreams intersecting with reality, fairies, sprites, forest creatures, and a play within a play.

It’s all very simple? Hermia loves Lysander, but must marry Demetrius, her father’s choice. Helena loves Demetrius, but he is smitten with Hermia. Hermia and Lysander plan to escape through the forest, but not before Hermia tells Helena, who tells Demetrius. The four head for the forest as does a troupe of would-be actors (a company of misfits) rehearsing a play for the Duke of Athens’ wedding. Add a magic love potion, a vengeful fairy king, mistaken identities, masks and transformations, and you get the picture.

Director Lisa Peterson has updated the production. We are “lost in the fifties” and love the reminders. Despite its simplicity, Rachel Hauck’s set is intricate and ingenious and transforms readily from town to forest. Interestingly, Hauck chose to retain a single window casement throughout. Puzzling at first, it becomes a constant reminder that all is not as it seems.

Of all the delightful creatures that roam the forest, two in particular stand out. Hartford Stage newcomer Susannah Flood as Helena definitely steals the spotlight as the woman scorned. “Not made to woo,” she nevertheless stoops to just about anything to further her cause, including her hilarious “I am your spaniel” tail-wagging declaration of love, delivered on all-fours. Lucas Caleb Rooney is top-notch as Bottom the Weaver. His John Wayne imitation and his “ass-inine” song are priceless.

Paul James Pendergast’s original score lends a fairytale atmosphere, evoking a dreamlike state, convincing us to “let the magic take us away.” And it does.