2015-07-31 / Ticket

Shakespeare at Monmouth

Special to Ticket

THE CAST of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performs at Theater at Monmouth. 
CONTRIBUTED IMAGE THE CAST of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performs at Theater at Monmouth. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE REVIEW

If on a lazy hazy summer day, a day murky with the murmur of thunder in the distance, enter thee into a moving vehicle and traverse the windy back roads to partake of the enchanting spectacle “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” presented by Theater at Monmouth.

Considered one of the most popular and certainly one of the most accessible of Shakespeare's plays, “The Dream,” as it is known, is a good choice for summer vacation viewing. Categorized as a comedy, the play is a lighthearted tale of faeries playing tricks to mix and match couples in town for the upcoming marriage of Duke Theseus of Athens to Amazon Queen Hippolyta. Love is in the air, mixed messages are in the airwaves, and a guy named Bottom is literally turned into an ass.

In 1975 the Maine State Legislature named the company by decree The Shakespearean Theater of Maine and the repertory company, much to Maine's benefit, continues to uphold its mission to perform at least two of the bard's plays each year. Because of this dedication, the troupe knows Shakespeare and his work inside and out and works effortlessly to share “The Dream” as if it were mama's lemon meringue pie: a perfect blend of solid lemony tartness and firm froth.

Director Janis Stevens, succeeds in her goal to "take the play back to itself [and] leave it alone. Or, as the news source The Onion proclaimed in a satirical, "Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play In Time, Place Shakespeare Intended". Refreshingly, the play — which has been transported by other directors to such odd settings as 1950s New York City and British Colonial India, with Tatiana in a sari — is set in ancient Athens, as Shakespeare wrote it. A few key set pieces and decorative elements such as Greek columns that turn into the otherworldly and ominous trees of Oberon's forest plus simple hat and wig changes to delineate humans from fairies keep the focus on the characters and their often hilarious actions.

The acting ranges from good to very good with the entire ensemble excelling at comedic scenes and minor characters stealing the spotlight from major players. Bill Van Horne is delightful in that plum role of Bottom and Nisi Sturgis clearly has fun as the lusty capricious fairy queen Titania, than as wooden human queen Hippolyta. Especially compelling is Olivia Williamson who plays Helena like she’s been told she’s the DUFF (designated ugly fat friend) and she’s not having it, no she is not. Even when Helena becomes the target of two men's wanton attentions, Williamson keeps her Helena strong and sardonic. It is a glory to behold. The fact that Blaustein's Puck is, well, far less puckish than most portrayals of the mischievous fairy gives Williamson and Van Horne more opportunities to rule the comedic realms on the Monmouth stage.

While “A Midsummer Night's Dream” is the perfect play for the whole family, Theater at Monmouth is also presenting one of Shakespeare’s lesser known “The Winter's Tale.” There is good reason for the paucity of productions for this play.

The plot is, frankly, ridiculous. It mashes the jealous rage and suspicion of Othello with the return of the missing child element of Twelfth Night and then adds the precursor of Pygmalion for good measure. The main actors, Nisi Sturgis and Jordan Coughtry have an enlightening blog post about it that this reviewer wishes she had read before attending: http://theateratmonmouth.org/blog- 2/page/4/.

“The Winter's Tale” is valued by Shakespeare scholars as a trial run for the much more magical and energetic, “The Tempest.” But its magic is more contrived, its unrhymed diction more cumbersome and characters far less easy to love. The Theater at Monmouth deserves kudos for its rare effort to bring this play to life on stage, but Shakespeare couldn't conjure the same level of magic he brings to “Dream” and “The Tempest,” a bardic shortcoming the troupe cannot overcome. It is worth the trip for the chance to see it live but if you have the choice, comedy wins over murderous husbands no matter what the weather — even if a raging thunderstorm would be the perfect backdrop.

For ticket information and more, visit theateratmonmouth.org.

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