There's a huge, happy Mardi Gras party going on at the Grandel Theatre, and it won't stop on Wednesday. The Black Rep's highly enjoyable production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which opened over the weekend, will run until March 4, giving lots of people the chance to enjoy it.
One of the great joys of Shakespeare is that they take happily to all sorts of changes in time and place. Leave the language alone, and keep the basic story line intact, and "Romeo and Juliet" can be set in Prohibition-era Chicago, or "Julius Caesar" will work in 1930s Italy.
The current "Midsummer" is set, the program states, in 1970s Athens, and while the music often matches, Dunsi Dai's set of live oaks dripping moss made me think of I-55 between Memphis and Jackson, Miss. Meanwhile, costume designer Sarita Fellows obviously collected all the glitter and most of the tasteless clothes from all over town. The glitter is everywhere.
Director Chris Anthony, a hometown talent who was a Black Rep intern not so long ago and now is the associate artistic director of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, gets most of the credit for the wide-open, high-flying, broadly staged and acted comedy. Physical comedy abounds, with pratfalls, fights, tumbling and other types of clowning around. At the same time, most of the actors do extremely well with Shakespeare's formal, often old-fashioned language.
Anthony. with help from choreographer Heather Beal, also brings a great deal of movement into the action. There's some dancing, of mostly modern styles, but mostly it's in humorous, engaging bits and pieces, a couple of steps here, a single actor's joyous jump there, a giddy and happy "swing your partner" somewhere else. It's all fun.
The story is simple, and simply confusing, with two loving couples who sometimes switch allegiances, if not partners, sometimes on their own, sometimes under a magic spell by Puck (a bouncy, delightful Daniel D. Hodges). There's a king and queen of the community and of the night-in-the-forest people, with Robert Mitchell a charmer with a twinkle in his eye and Monica Parks sliding from royalty to flirtatiousness and back again.
The four younger lovers are Lysander (Chauncey Thomas) and Hermia (Courtney Brown) in one corner, Demetrius (Anthony Peeples) and Helena (Patrese D. McClain) in the other. The first three sparkled from start to finish; McClain began slowly, then turned things up a few notches to rocket through the second act. Thomas and Brown engage in some rand physical comedy, and Brown is worth the price of admission when she storms about "the bounds of a maiden's passion." Chad Morris lit up the first scene as Hermia's father, showing just a hint of Tony Soprano. When he returned later, in shining drag as one of the Fairies, he showed another facet of his skills.
And then there was the subplot of the play-within-a-play, with the "mechanicals" performing "Pyramus and Thisbe," under the direction of Amy Loui as Peter Quince, just as harried as a real-life director. She's a delight, and her actors, a round-faced, wonderful Matthew Galbreath as Bottom/Pyramus; a tall, thin, splendid physical comedian, Ryan Cunningham as Flute/Thisbe; Candice Jeanine, a poker-faced and funny as the Wall and as Snout; Philip C. Dixon as Starveling/Moonshine; and Diamond Emelda Skinner as a remarkable, winning Lion.
The play is nonsense, but so much fun. Galbreath is a stitch as the actor who wants to play all the parts and re-write the script, too. Cunningham's horizontal-striped, purple-and-green socks were a highlight, too.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, a production of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, opened Feb. 17 and will run through March 4 at the Grandel Theatre.