Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s latest venture, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, plunges into the weeds of a play within a play. These woods are dark and deep as well as inhabited by malevolent fairies who like to make sport of the humans who wander into their milieu.
For the most part, this production is entertainingly chaotic. Much of the comedy derives from the four young lovers chasing each other on and off stage as well as the attempts by the locals to stage a show for the upcoming nuptials of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, to the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. Both ensemble groups lean into the playful moments, bantering and giving full vent to the absurdity. Rod Rich’s Bottom stands out for his boisterous hilarity: first as he tries to dominate his fellow performers by playing all the roles at the same time, and then as the transformed donkey delighting in the affections of a fairy queen, played with amusing sensuality by Natalie Blackman. Rich steers clear of caricature, giving his Bottom an old country boy air that was marvelously funny.
Xenon Winslow’s Puck prances around the stage like a mischievous child, reveling in the results of her antics that drive most of the action. Much as she did recently as Ariel in The Tempest, Winslow brings a great deal of physicality to the role. Here, dressed more like a punk rocker, this Puck is a bit dark and edgy, more overtly manipulative as she does her master’s bidding and then embellishes her actions.
Her master, Oberon, King of the Fairies, is most unhappy, furious with his mate, Titania, who refuses to obey him. Dressed all in black, Ris Harp’s Oberon shouts his anger, setting Puck off to cast enchantments. This Fairy King seems more inclined to battle for the love of his queen, even punish her, rather than woo her.
As directed by Aaron Alderman, this production mines both the humor as well as some of the darkness that lurks beneath the romantic merriment. And while many of the performers pulled laughs from the audience, some parts felt more weighty and less magical, such as Oberon’s fury with Puck. The quarrels among the lovers careened into emotional tirades that collapsed into silliness – amusing bickering when not shouting at one another. And yet this Midsummer Night’s Dream possesses its own inherent charm to while away an evening – after all, it was but a bit of time “these visions did appear.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through July 23. For more information visit https://sweetteashakespeare.com/.