Less than a year after Public Theater gave us a colorful, lively version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, CMU’s Drama School give us one even more colorful and lively. As directed by Don Wadsworth, delightful, charming performances come enhanced by fully consistent style with a true sense of ensemble. The words and their essential meanings become constantly clear and, at the same time, the players in comic roles move with panache and personality, well-coached by Catherine Moore. The whole conception has a great sense of fun in a remarkably fresh way, Moreover, Wadsworth doesn’t fool around much with the original concept, taking it out to some new, shaky limb, even though the “real” characters are played in contemporary clothes
Advance publicity says that Wadsworth made cuts and changes. The most noticeable sense of that comes from the fact that the production runs intermissionless in under two hours. Even so, the story and its three-branched developments appear to remain essentially intact. I noticed only one major transposition of the text. It was at the end of the play and in the service of Wadsworth’s intention to emphasize the idea of a dream, in this case making it all seem as if it is Bottom’s dream. Hence Bottom’s bottom is visible on stage throughout all the action, mostly body-doubled. To close the play, no longer recumbent, he says things which, originally, are in a much earlier scene. No great harm there. As for the rest of the concept, it seems immaterial rather than obvious.
Wadsworth and his student cast make the most and best of the two deliberately humorous elements in the play. One is Shakespeare’s wonderful dig at eternally inept theatre folk with Bottom and his buddies and their goofy attempts to put on a show. Wadsworth’s inventions and the cast’s playing do the whole thing hilariously right. The other element concerns the mis-matched lovers losing their way and their reason in the forest. The four students play all of this superbly, full of youthful excess, finding the potential of how the characters behave and speak. Moreover, the playing of straight roles has equal polish and sincerity. You couldn’t ask for better performances, even from professionals.
The third element has always seemed the most problematical, the root of a major plot development. Oberon’s minor dispute with Titania prompts him to have Puck enchant the lovers, which, going awry, creates much merriment. There’s also Titania’s falling in love with an ass, Bottom, a kind of flat-out joke with elemental potential. In other productions I’ve never seen anything done with Oberon, Titania and Puck to make them really interesting. They usually look colorful enough but come across as if they leapt out of a rather standard ballet. In this case Wadsworth and Moore have filled the stage with supple bodies in swirling, gymnastic evocations of ethereal creatures, many of whom come cleverly costumed to look like extensions of the forest and the trees. All of them, including Oberon, Titania and Puck, move adeptly in an intricate, imaginative set. But nothing makes those characters really special. Not an easy assignment for students. For anyone.
Incidentally, advance publicity says that this production has original music by Eric Lawson, a CMU Drama School MFA candidate. The otherwise superbly annotated program book says nothing about that.
Surely, though it be not summer, this entertainment brightens the hours.
This production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream resumes after Thanksgiving week, a lease of all too short a date, from Tuesday November 30th until Saturday December 4th at CMU’s Philip Chosky Theater. Info and tickets: 412-268-2407 or http://www.drama.cmu.edu.