William Shakespeare called “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a comedy and it has been performed more in the four centuries since it was written than any other of his plays.
There is a tendency to say “Oh, Not Again,” when it shows up on a bill for a theater company. I mean, what else can there be in this play that we’ve never seen before?
The answer to that, under the direction of John Langs at American Players Theatre, is more humor and laughs than I’ve seen in a dozen or so productions of this classic.
It took only a few seconds after the lights came up for this crew to put a stamp on this one as something unique and exciting.
With the thumping sound of a hundred drums there was a sudden onslaught of a thousand dancers and actors, moving with abandon around the brand new stage at the Hill Theatre.
Around and around they moved, all dressed in shades of gray, with the exception of one young woman dressed in a soft lavender. It was a crazy couple of minutes, creating a stiffening of the spine and a lean forward for the capacity crowd.
Of course it wasn’t a hundred drums or a thousand dancers, but it seemed like it as the joyful merriment never ever stopped.
Once the crowd exited, all of them to change costumes for the roles that were to come in the telling of this story, the crowd settled back to keep an eye on the mischievous shenanigans of this story.
Here’s how funny this show is.
I sat just a couple of seats away from James and Brenda DeVita. She is the artistic director of APT and he may well lay claim to being themes talented man in wWisconsin.
Ms. DeVita roared with laughter while Mr. DeVita, ever the detailed and diligent observer, leaned forward, chin on hand, watching with a serious look on his face.
And then, when a sexy Colleen Madden, as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, danced in flirtation with John Pribyl as Bottom, the weaver who wants to be and is the star of the play within a plan, Mr. DeVita at first cracked a tight smile, followed by a relaxation back into his seat and a full-throated laugh that matched the roars of the audience.
Most plays – at least the good ones – are often highlighted by the actors on the stage while the artists who work to bring the production into the light labor in relative anonymity.
Not this show.
The overwhelming ambiance created for this production forced me to move from my seat close to the stage to the last row, just to see what it looked and felt like.
It was amazing. Being able to sit back and see and hear the entire world of magical forest created by these superb artists was a special treat on this warm summer evening.
Most obvious were the costumes of Murell Horton.
Ranging from the particular and specific for Peter Quince (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and the crew of players who accepted, some with reluctance, the roles assigned by Quince, to the glorious panorama of the fairies and sprites who enchanted this forest.
Mr. Horton gave each of the members of this makeshift company of would be actors a costume emblematic of their profession: the Bottom woven vest; Flute was draped with a bellows; Starveling, a tailor, wore a suit of detailed elegance; Snug was burdened by tools and Snout the tinker (Ty Fanning) carried a cupboard full of pots and pans and also wins the prize for the most striking and enjoyable entrance of the night.
The fairies were cast in muted colors that were a forest of treats for the eyes, led by the costumed Ms. Madden who gave Titania a sex appeal that I’ve never seen before.
The breathtaking costumes were a steady parade of actors who played on an evocative and simple set by Nayna Ramey under the sparkling lighting of Michael A. Peterson.
And a special nod needs to go to Josh Schmidt, the Milwaukee native who is among the top sound designers in the world. and Ameenah Kaplan, Atlanta-based choreographer and co-composer/drum arranger. Much of Kaplan’s work rested in the composition of the constant and powerful percussion that carried the story on its shoulders.
But Mr. Schmidt also created a lovingly lilted lullaby, sung by Cher Desiree Alvarez toward the end of the first act. It was a gorgeous song made even more so by the simplicity of the instruments and the clarity of Ms. Alvarez’s voice.
There have been many moments of great comedy on the stages at APT, but few that have ever matched the performance of Mr. Pribyl, who is in his sixth season with the company.
His Bottom is convinced that nobody in the cast can play all the roles, male, female and uncertain, any better than he. His seduction of Quince into agreement and his subsequent dance with the flirtations of Titania are the tuff that legends are made of.
In his director notes, Mr. Langs starts with a quote from “Misalliance.”
“There is magic in these woods…”