THE BASICS: Shakespeare’s comedy A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, directed by Brian Cavanagh, presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park, the second of their 47th season offerings, opened July 28 and runs through August 21, Tuesdays through Sundays promptly at 7:15 pm (off Mondays) on the newly dedicated “Saul Elkin Stage” on “Shakespeare Hill” in Delaware Park near Marcy Casino and The Rose Garden (199 Lincoln Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14222 for your GPS). These performances are free and open to the public (but bring some cash for an intermission donation, merch, and a jewelry raffle). Also, bring a lawn chair or blanket, a jacket for after the sun sets, snacks and beverages of your choice, and maybe some bug spray and a flashlight (for the walk back to the car). (Stretch-golf-cart rides are provided between the hill and Rumsey Road.)
Runtime: 2 hours and 40 minutes
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (AMSND) has three sets of lovers who must undergo trials and tribulations before the concluding triple wedding. The first pair of lovers are Theseus, the Duke of Athens who is about to marry Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. Meanwhile, young Hermia has been told by her father that, for political reasons, she has to marry Demetrius, who is a bit of a dud. But Hermia (“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”) is in love with Lysander and Lysander loves Hermia back and they are not to be denied. Good news, by the end of the play Hermia’s friend Helena, who never gave up on Demetrius, also gets her man. Shakespeare, if you don’t know, was writing roles for strong independent women 400 years ago. It’s one of the many reasons we’re still watching AMSND today.
So, while the night is young, into the woods we go, where most of the shenanigans shake out. Oberon, King of the Fairies, is mad at his wife Titania, Queen of the Fairies, because she won’t give him her ward, the young “Indian changeling” to be his henchman. So, Oberon summons his “fixer” – a fairy named “Puck” who is full of tricks and magic – to make Titania fall in love with an animal so that in her shame, she will accede to Oberon’s demands. In fact, it’s not an animal, but the foolish character Bottom who now, through Puck’s magic, has the head of an ass. “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?” she says upon seeing this creature. Oh my.
And, then there’s the concluding “play-within-a-play,” which, if done right, is actually pretty funny as we follow the local tradesmen, known as “mechanicals” (including Bottom now restored to human form), planning, rehearsing, and then performing the tale of the ill-fated lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, which is the play they plan to present at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Well, it was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020 but at last it’s arrived. And worth the wait. If you’ve ever been confused by A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM before, then this is the production for you. Every alliance or “group” is easily identified, characters are fleshed out and well portrayed by experienced actors, and each scene is carefully delineated, sometimes at the expense of flow. However, if you’ve ever wondered if your, say, 12-year-old would like to see this, the answer is a definite yes! Director Cavanagh has introduced enough silliness to keep the kids engaged.
Kids are terrific and are our future and all that jazz, but I had just come back from the Stratford (Shakespeare) Festival where, in good 16th-century tradition, they run with any opportunity for more adult bawdy humor. And so I was a little disappointed at Cavanagh’s PG-13 approach. For just one example, when Theseus says to Hippolyta “I won you with my sword” I expected to see some phallic humor, but no. And that restraint of bump and grind continued all night as suggestive bits of dialog were just passed by.
On the other hand, director Cavanagh did bring out some other often hidden aspects. In many productions, Theseus and Hippolyta just stand around “adulting” and might be mannequins for all they do, but as the play opens and Hermia’s dad, Egeus, is asking Theseus to aid him in forcing his daughter to marry a man she doesn’t love, and Theseus seems to go along with this, watch Hippolyta shoot daggers with her eyes. Very funny.
The casting of the four lovers was also inspired with Helena played by the very tall Kris Bartolomeo and Hermia (“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”) played by Sabrina Kahwaty who often plays children in other productions. So, for the first time in my experience, the “short jokes” at Hermia’s expense made sense. It didn’t hurt that Bartolomeo and Kahwaty are both very physical actors and recently worked together in a production of PUFFS. This is an experienced cast.
Speaking of physical, another reason to go is to see Phil Wackerfuss as Puck, who is beyond athletic, leaping and rolling around the stage.
There is a lot of eye candy on stage, including Chris Hatch spending most of the play shirtless as a very hunky Oberon with his beautiful queen Titania, played by Traci Lane, bedecked in a gorgeous costume designed by Jenna Damberger. Let’s pause here and give kudos to that whole team: Wardrobe – Kaitlyn Johnson, Wig Design – Jessica Rasp, Assistant Costume Designer and Make-Up Design – Brenna Prather and Stitchers – Sarah Foote and Kay Johnson. Well done!
Unfortunately, the concluding play within a play didn’t do it for me. I was hoping to relive the night that The Irish Classical Theatre put on AMSND at Kleinhans with the BPO. Apparently, that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be sure, all involved in this current production are fine actors but were allowed to overdo things just a little bit. Note, again, the 12-year-olds in the audience thought it was hilarious. So, SiDP plays to a big tent or a big hill, and what doesn’t work for me obviously works for others. You might love it.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, to cut costs, theaters these days (well, not The Shaw Festival and not The Stratford Festival) are not handing out printed programs, but you can see the full-color, beautifully produced playbill for this show by visiting SiDP’s website (shakespeareindelawarepark.org) or by clicking here.
That’s where you’ll find the cast list, which includes:
The adult citizens of Athens:
Theseus, the Duke of Athens – John Profeta
Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons – Kit Kuebler
Philostrate (Theseus’s Master of Revels) – Lucas Colon
Egeus (Hermia’s dad) – David Mitchell
The Four Young Lovers:
Lysander – Brendan Didio
Demetrius – Zach Gammel
Hermia – Sabrina Kahwaty
Helena – Kris Bartolomeo
The Fairy World:
Oberon, the King of the Fairies – Chris Hatch
Titania, the Queen of the Fairies – Traci Lane
Puck (aka “Robin Goodfellow”) – Phil Wackerfuss
Fairy – Jessie Miller
Fairy – Christian Hines
Fairy – Morgan Mincer
The six “Mechanicals” (tradesmen by day, actors by night):
Peter Quince – Nathanial W. C. Higgins
Nick Bottom – Tom Loughlin
Francis Flute – Larry Smith
Tom Snout – Steve Brachmann
Snug – Elliot Fox
Starveling – Marc Ruffino
The Production Staff includes:
Director – Brian Cavanagh
Choreographer – Bobby Cooke
Stage Manager – Emma English
Assist. Stage Manager – Madeleine Bedanko
Assist. Stage Manager – Rebecca Ostrander
Costume Design – Jenna Damberger
Wardrobe – Kaitlyn Johnson
Sound Design – Tom Makar
Set Design – David Dwyer
Lighting Design – Emma Schimminger
Live Sound Reinforcement – Mitchell Sulkowski
Sound Playback – Hailey Adams
Wig Design – Jessica Rasp
Dramaturg – Susan Drozd
Assistant Costume Designer & Make-Up Design – Brenna Prather
Stitchers – Sarah Foote, Kay Johnson
SiDP is now the second oldest Shakespeare company in the country, playing each year to over 40,000 people from more than 23 states and Ontario, Canada. If you started taking your middle schooler to SiDP, by the time they went off to college, they’d potentially have seen over a dozen fully fledged Shakespeare plays, and all for free. You can’t buy that kind of college prep (but you can make a donation at intermission)!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!