A Midsummer Night's Dream - Apollinaire Theatre Company

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Apollinaire Theatre Company

 Pictured: Michael John Ciszewski and Cassie Foote

Pictured: Michael John Ciszewski and Cassie Foote

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Apollinaire Theatre Company

Review by James Wilkinson

A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Assistant Director: Brooke Reeves. Sound Designer/Composer: David Reiffel. Set Design: Marc Poirier. Costume Design: Susan Paino. Lighting Design: Chris Bocchiaro. Movement/Fight Director: Samuel Warton. 

You give yourself a hell of a challenge when you set out to make the old feel new again. Theater artists can twist themselves into knots trying to come up with reason why audiences should bring themselves to care about yet another revival of a classic play. At its worst moments, this can lead to concept-driven productions that seem to be waring with the intentions of the original play (“Let’s set Hedda Gabler on the moon!”). At its best moments, it can lead to productions that remind you why certain works are considered classics in the first place. Apollinaire Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream playing at PORT Park falls into the latter category. It’s a production that seems to be generating its own gravitational force. You’re sucked into its orbit so slowly that it’s not until the end that you discover you’ve been completely enveloped. I happened to catch it on what was perhaps the most perfect summer evening to be outside in the park but the production is so over brimming with charisma, humor and fun that I’m confident I would have been just as enchanted by it had I caught the play in the middle of a hurricane. 

In fact I would argue that “fun” is the most significant word in that description. It can be something of a fool’s errand to nail down exactly what it is in a work of art that makes you enjoy it as much as you do. Sometimes it’s just a matter of all of the pieces coming together and fitting together just so. But the sense of fun that this company of actors is bringing to the project is, I think, a large part of what makes it work. Shakespeare’s comedies are largely about laughing at all that’s silly in human behavior, about taking a step back and saying, “Isn’t it absolutely ridiculous that this is how we are?” In A Midsummer’s Night Dream the fickle and volatile nature of love is thrown under a microscope and the fun that Apollinaire’s company of actors playing up their character’s vices for laughs is infectious. 

Like the title suggests, this is a play that exists between the waking and the dream world and Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ direction contains a number of subtle touches that give an otherworldly feel to the production. As the narrative moves from the concrete world of Athens to the world of the fairies, the audience is asked to move from a more grassy section of Port Park over to a stage set-up by the salt pile adjacent to the park. I have to admit that I raised an eyebrow at placing the section of the play that occurs in the forest in front of a large white mound, but Jacques turns the blankness of the setting into an advantage. As the sun sets, designer Chris Bocchiaro’s lighting begins to take over the landscape, washing the playing area in blues and greens that shift with the moods of the characters. A rogue upright piano offers a musical chime at every occurrence of the fairies’ magic. The final effect is actually very similar to how we experience actual dreams. You don’t question what’s happening until it suddenly hits you that reality has been warping the entire time. 

Ultimately, the best compliment that I can give to the production is that I was engaged with the characters and their stories. That may sound like a low bar to set, but I would ask you to consider the following. During high school (back when I acted) I was in a production of the play as Peter Quince; I’ve seen the 1999 movie several times; I’ve listened to multiple radio broadcasts of the play; I’ve read the play as a part of Shakespeare class in college; and I’ve seen no less than three other stage productions of the play during my theater-going lifetime. The bottom line is that this is a play that I know very well and I would imagine that there are a number of regular theater goers who also know the play pretty well. And yet as the play was rounding into the final act, I wasn’t just waiting to check off plot points, I found myself wanting to see how the story turned out. It’s an amazing slight-of-hand trick to experience. You’re so invested in what’s happening that you forget that you already know what’s going to happen. I suppose that some may argue that’s the magic of Shakespeare, but I think that to do so is to negate all of the work the cast and designers put into creating this world to step into. If they weren’t selling it as well as they are, the whole thing would crumble.

Equally impressive is the way Apollinaire’s production makes you feel not as though you went to see a show, but that the audience came together to experience something. This is what I mean when I say that the show feels like it has its own gravitational force. There’s a collective, communal feeling to in the final moments of the production. The play ends on a magical little image that pulls the entire audience into the world of the play. When the lights dim then come back on for actor bows, you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve been somewhere else. When you look back you realize that it was all just a pleasant dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company July 11-29, 2018.

Admission is free at Port Park in Chelsea. For more information, visit their website: www.apollinairetheatre.com

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