Sunday, January 31, 2010

Theatre Review: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Pittsburgh Public Theater. 1/31/10

(Posted but not read on the air)
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Pittsburgh Public Theatre lightens up the cold and darkness of these winter nights. Director Ted Pappas has staged it colorfully and charmingly bringing forth an attractive and sometimes quite funny version. It always looks and sounds good, moves well and clearly. Although the production doesn’t have a very specific style or original point of view and most actors don’t get substantially beyond the surface of the roles, everything comes together credibly and entertainingly.

Pappas does extremely well in keeping the pace of the show lively but never frenetic. He also adeptly gets his cast to make clear the essence of the plot and the essentials of whatever the characters say, even if they do not convey the richness of the language and it subtle variations. Moreover Pappas seems to have been able to keep most of the cast from overplaying or pushing the comedy.

Two performances stand out wonderfully, those of John Ahlin as Bottom and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as one of the mortal lovers, Lysander. Both create perfect comedic characters. Clearly Pappas has made Ahlin the star of the show, giving him room to perform hilarious physical business. Ahlin consistently shows how this role can be played to the hilt without ever plunging into the depths of heavy caricature. And Near-Verbrugghe’s interpretation sparkles with personality and inventiveness, making the most of everything he says and does.

David Whalen gives good contrast as the friendly Duke of Athens Theseus and the rather aggressive King of the Fairies Oberon. And Alex Coleman makes Peter Quince look sweet rather than comic, which works fine. Puck, often considered a colorful and special creature, comes across in Harris Doran’s acrobatic take as rather drab. Beth Wittig, on the other hand, does not mesh with the credibility of the other actors, venturing into misconceived cartoon dimensions as Helena.

James Noone’s scenic design and Gabriel Berry’s costumes look classy. And Zach Moore’s sound design, incorporating some of Mendelssohn’s well known score… with multiple uses of the Wedding March…also includes unidentified music. That music is not credited in the program book. But then, hardly anyone ever credits borrowed music in local productions, an omission which needs correction. Not only should the composer be acknowledged, but also some of us would like to know what the music is.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through February 21st at O’Reilly Theater downtown at 621 Penn Avenue. 412/ 316 1600