Shakespeare rookies, we’ve got a good one for you. Sure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is commonly offered as an easy option for newcomers to the work of Stratford-upon-Avon’s most famous resident. But Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ 2016 offering, directed by Artistic and Executive Director Rick Dildine, is particularly easy-going and understandable. At times, it feels rather like a screwball comedy, not, goodness knows, that there’s anything wrong with that.
Shakespeare, of course, tends towards complicated plots and sub-plots especially when romance is involved. In this, we have a pending aristocratic wedding as well as two pairs of lovers. One young woman in love with a fellow, is promised by her father to another chap she loathes; her best friend is hot-crazy about the guy her pal is engaged to. What could go wrong here, indeed? In addition, we have a band of blue-collar types who are amateur actors planning a play for entertainment at the wedding’s after-party, and a collection of fairies, including their feuding king and queen. There’s a schematic, taken from a Post-Dispatch story that’s posted at the top of Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, but it’s not a difficult story to follow if you speed-read the program notes.
The play is a delicious, somewhat elaborate pastry, and picking out the most delicious components is a little tricky. Both Cassia Thompson, as the unhappily engaged Hermia, and Rachel Christopher, playing Helena, her friend, are delightful, not only in their acting but in the physical demands the second half of the play evokes. Oberon, king of the fairies, is Timothy Carter, a pleasure to watch in his scheming, and not just because he has a number of really funny lines. His strong-willed queen, Nancy Anderson’s Titania, is clearly his equal, the chemistry between the two quite evident.
The group of players, referred to as the Mechanicals – and has anyone used that name for a music group? - are all great fun, led with immense style by Stephen Pilkington as Nick Bottom, so hammy he could be sliced and served with scalloped potatoes.
Dildine’s creative team lives up the standards the SFSL has set over the years. The set, which seems relatively ordinary at first, shows its stuff well, with unnoticed doors opening and closing, stairs appearing, and more, all from Scott Neale. Part of lighting designer John Wylie’s work involves those doors, adding to the fun. The lighting is very much part of the show in this outdoor performance, much of which is set in a forest. Dottie Englis’ costumes for setting this in the mid-Twentieth Century are a charm, between the uniforms of the duke’s court, the young women’s full-skirted outfits, and the clothes of the duke’s fiancee, Hippolyta, played by the elegant and self-possessed Jacqueline Thompson. There’s original music from Brian Seyle, Matt Pace and Peter Mark Kendall, some of which is close to stunning.
If you’re new to St. Louis, or if you just don’t know Forest Park at this time of year, Shakespeare Glen is located just northeast of the Art Museum. There’s food available on site, chairs that can be rented and some picnic tables scattered about. Do not, I beg you, forget to avail yourself of the Schlafly beer created especially for the occasion and available only here and a few other Festival events, Schlafly 1616. Fine stuff – as is the play.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
through June 26, except Tuesdays
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis