Story: Theseus, Duke of Athens, is betrothed to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. They plan a festive wedding celebration, but first Theseus is asked to rule on a demand by nobleman Egeus. The latter says that Athenian law mandates that his daughter Hermia be compelled to marry Demetrius (her father’s choice for a son-in-law), rather than the man she actually loves, Lysander. If she doesn’t, she will be forced to enter a nunnery or sentenced to death. Simultaneously, a band of laborers led by Peter Quince prepares to perform a ‘comedy and tragedy’ about Pyramus and Thisbe as part of the royal couple’s reception entertainment.
In the woods outside Athens, Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, oversee the activities of their minions, including Puck, Oberon’s loyal servant. Oberon instructs Puck to sprinkle magic dust on the sleeping eyelids of Demetrius so that he falls in love with Helena, who loves him, but Puck first mistakenly approaches Lysander instead. Oberon also orders Puck to sprinkle dust on Titania and to change the laborer Bottom into a donkey who infatuates Titania. Lysander and Demetrius both pursue Helena, Hermia is puzzled by Lysander’s sudden lack of interest in her, Bottom is changed back to normal and the troupe of tradesmen perform their under-rehearsed play for several newly married couples.
Highlights: St. Louis Shakespeare’s artistic director Donna Northcott has remounted a sell-out production that originally was presented at Lindenwood University earlier this year. The mostly student cast brings substantial energy to the presentation, a particular favorite of Northcott’s, who has directed it three times and starred in three other versions. Some fine performances, notably by Michael Juncal as the imperial Oberon, Joshua Nash Payne as the fevered Puck and Laura Enstall as the frustrated Helena, stand out.
Other Info: Northcott sets the action in the early 20th century for reasons that seem to have little impact on the production other than allowing costume designer Wes Jenkins to show his flair with a variety of garments. The lean set design by Michael Dombeck allows for easy access by the performers around a series of columns and over a few judiciously placed steps.
Daniel Sukup and Jaymz Hawkins have fun with a cartoon-style sound design, with support from Jeff Roberts. C. Blaine Adams provides some winsome props and Linda Lawson-Mixon contributes the lighting. Duvaul Gamble offers the pleasant dance choreography and Northcott judiciously adds fight choreography to enliven the show here and there.
Performances are decidedly a mixed bag. Juncal commands the stage with his booming voice whenever he’s front and center, while Nash brings his customary manic approach to the harried and impish Puck. Enstall shows fine comic range as the frustrated Helena, and Paul Edwards enjoys the banter and bravado of the boisterous Bottom, albeit a bit too much at times.
Others in the cast include Eric Peters as Theseus, Jamie Chandler as Hippolyta, Milly Naeger as Philostrate, Shane Bosillo in a belabored rendition of Egeus, Beth Wickenhauser as a frequently screaming Hermia, Daniel Hayward as the earnest Lysander and Jimmy Krawczyk as a diffident Demetrius.
The fairies are played by Njemile Ambonisye as Titania and Cole Figus as Peaseblossom, Daniel Sukup as Cobweb, Duvaul Gamble as Moth and C. Blaine Adams as Mustardseed, attendants to Titania. Jaysen Cryer does a muted and puzzling turn as Peter Quince, with assistance from Cole Rommel as Flute, Jaiymz Hawkins as Snug, Joshua Rowland as Snout and Melissa Maddox as a very frustrated Starveling.
This version may have played to great acclaim in the collegiate conviviality of Lindenwood University, but on the Grandel stage the inexperience of too many of its players is readily apparent, enthusiasm or not. So be it.
Play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Group: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: October 4, 5, 6, 7
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 361-5664 or brownpapertickets.com
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kim Carlson and Donna Northcott