Shakespeare clearly meant to evoke nonstop laughter when he created “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Theatricum Botanicum’s effervescent version is so successful in realizing this goal that giggles and guffaws drown out dozens of the Bard’s lines. Broad in the best sense, directed with scintillating wit by Melora Marshall, every scene sets the pulse racing while still preserving a romantic flavor.
The look of Marshall’s production is breathtaking, from Ruth Barrie’s sumptuous costumes to Joe Morrisey’s lighting of the theater’s spacious outdoor backdrop. These images furnish an ideal visual complement to the story of lovestruck Hermia (Megan Goodchild) and her emotional crises. Goodchild registers the right degree of anxiety and desperation when told by Theseus, Duke of Athens, (Abner Genece), that she must obey her father and marry Demetrius (Justin Doran), rather than Lysander (Jeff Wiesen), the man she truly adores. As every Shakespeare devotee knows, determined Hermia doesn’t take this news lying down, not even when the Duke ominously threatens her with death or a nunnery if she refuses to comply.
Doran and Wiesen, as the fiercely competitive lovers, play off each other like a long-established comedy duo. Aided by exciting Stuart Rogers/Aaron Hendry fight choreography, they turn physical battling into a riotous routine. When fairy Puck (director Marshall) casts a spell on Demetrius, tricking him into rejecting Hermia and loving Helena, Demetrius’ lust is entertainingly demonstrated by slavish puppydog devotion. Lysander is ardent but also petulant, like a child denied his favorite toy. Both actors remain so in command that they can turn nasty and cruel to Hermia when bewitched and still keep us in their corner.
Willow Geer’s Helena is a masterful comedic creation (Give this girl a major movie or a TV series!) “The more I love, the more he hateth me,” she cries when faced with former boyfriend Demetrius’ rejection. But self-pity is replaced by a passionate desire to reclaim his affections. We feel sympathy when she wails, “I’m as ugly as a bear,” comparing herself unfavorably to the delicately beautiful Hermia.
Bottom, as always, seizes the stage, and Thad Geer portrays him splendidly as a shameless ham. When Quince (Mikko D. Sperber) decides to cast a show, “Pyramus and Thisby” and assigns parts to his acting troupe, Bottom’s famous request to play the leading man, the heroine and the lion is a flagrantly funny display of egotism. Sperber’s Quince shines as a talentless actor and frustrated director.
Marshall’s Puck takes a controversial approach. Always lively, supple in her movements and a crackling presence, she seems to be cloning Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson in her extravagant interpretation. Occasionally, she comes across more wicked witch than playful prankster. Eric Quander, with iridescent green face, decked out in pheasant feathers and jeweled headdress, makes an imposing Fairy King. The fairy ensemble, led by an alluring Titania (Abby Craden) offers fantasy enchantment, whether singing a lilting lullaby or flitting gracefully through the forest.
The ending, when Bottom’s troupe — Ian Flanders, Jeffrey Cannata, Israel Baron, Robert Adler, Steve Sisk, Sperber, Armando Gutierrez, Thad Geer — performs a blissfully campy version of their play, we feel a sense of elation that these performers are willing to abandon themselves to the zany antics, and happily concur with Puck’s line: “What fools these mortals be.”