Played out under the stars in the leafy grove of the amphitheater at the College of St. Elizabeth, Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s intermissionless production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is an accessible and refreshing summer interlude. The Bard’s knockabout farce of momentarily mismatched lovers, foolish amateur actors and woodland sprites is agreeably acted and fluently staged.
Focusing upon the play’s comic frenzy, Brian B. Crowe’s production finds its balance and contrast in the quarrels of the young lovers and the forest hi-jinks. Much of the lovers’ wrangling between rulers of the night Titania and Oberon has been omitted, as has most of the palace pomp and subtext. The play, however, retains its romantic lyricism and poetic thrust.
A formidable cast doubles up dexterously in roles ranging from Athenians and village mechanicals to the sprightly residents of the fairy kingdom. Alvin Keith’s imposing Oberon governs his domain on stilts, while Vayu O’Donnell’s devilish Puck, topped by a bright lime-green afro wig, makes a general nuisance of himself as he spreads potent moon dust upon unsuspecting lovers.
The irrepressible Bottom is wonderfully round and roguish as played by Michael Daly; his midsummer nap as a transformed amorous donkey is a clownish delight. As the cross-matched suitors, Richard Dreher’s Lysander and the Demetrius of Benjamin Eakeley are athletically virile, and as the object of their misguided affections, Kaylie Morris is a fetching Helena. Ditto Ka-Ling Cheung’s frustrated Hermia. Maureen Sebastian’s Titania is a sweetly imperious and seductively alluring fairy queen.
Venturing into broad slapstick, the play-within-the-play performed by the rustic thespians generates big audience guffaws. High hokum dominates the finale, and the town stooges leave them laughing in the tradition of vaudeville. The cast assembles some skillful clowns, especially Phil Mutz, who brings giddy grandeur to tinker Tom Snout. Darren Matthias also scores as the producer, Peter Quince.
Crowe has emphasized speed and vitality, and the actors dash into the audience and up the stone steps with hurried leaps and bounds while viewers cringe in fear for their safety. Powdery sky-blue panels back up Dick Block’s simple functional set of stairs, ramps and discs. C. David Russell’s wildly colorful costumes, wigs and accessories for the forest sprites would be no less at home in a Cirque du Soleil production.