Optimist Theatre hosts a restless green forest this summer as it wanders about to various locations performing an abbreviated Shakespearian experience in the middle of summer. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Lovers’ Tale. Is a fun focus on Athenian love lost amidst the meddling of a couple of fairies. The 90-minute show is a perfect little nap of a narrative that makes the dizzying, convoluted trips and swings through complex romance easy and enjoyable for audiences of all ages.
The set is simple. Just a couple of backdrops dotting the stage area. Costuming is bright and cheery with character is paired up in their ideal romantic connection by matching colors. The physical comedy of the show is amplified and exaggerated in a way that does not detract from the depth and sincerity of the romantic drama being presented. The directors have maintain a delightful balance that keep everything moving very quickly from beginning to end as the sun migrates towards the western horizon of whatever outdoor space they happen to be performing in at the time.
Rebeka Farr and Susie Duecker play to their strengths as two young women struggling with love, life, family and death threats. Farr’s sweet earnestness in love makes her a perfect fit for the fair Hermia. Duecker’s something of a genius with physical comedy, which fits the role of Helena quite well. As this is an intimate, small-stage affair, Farr has an opportunity to get into subtleties of romantic love while Duecker deftly explores a range of physical comedy from subtle confusion to passionate physical exaggeration.
Fabian Guerrero and King Hang play the ore aggressive, dramatic ends of the male end of the comedy in very robust dramatic motions that occasionally delve into greater subtlety. Libby Amato and Seth Hale each play dual roles. Hale is charismatic and subtly witty as both Theseus and Oberon. Amato is captivating as both Puck and Hippolyta.
Focussing as it does on the lovers, the only two speaking fairies of note in the play are Puck and Oberon. Hale’s sense of humor brilliantly filters in around the edges of his portrayal of Oberon. Amato is endlessly fun as the heroically confident trickster Puck. Amato’s grasp of physical humor is immensely enjoyable from subtle annoyance every time her talents are questioned to her blinding glee at causing confusion and chaos.
Not everything about the production is perfectly smooth. There IS some really, really engaging scoring that plays through one of two large speakers. This adds to the fully-rendered feeling of the outdoor production and really adds to the comedy, but I made the mistake of sitting right underneath an amp and the amplification was kind of deafening. Also: the wind in the mics caused static and distortion that was a bit wince-inducing in places.
Micheal Pettit does a little bit of puppetry for the show including a very pretty, ethereal Titania and the a pleasantly cute little bald-headed walking Egeus voiced from elsewhere by Optimist’s Tom Reed. The problem is that little Egeus’ head doesn’t articulate and Reed’s voice comes in more powerfully than anything else onstage even though the little puppet never appears to be speaking. So it’s like this little, bald puppet is...telepathically projecting his dialogue...which makes him seem a bit more supernatural than the two superhuman fairies who are in the show. A bald-headed mortal apparently capable of telepathic communication doesn’t quite fit the production. It would seem more at home in a school for gifted youngsters in Westchester County.
The Optimist Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Lovers’ Tale runs through September 6th at various locations in and around Southeastern Wisconsin. For more information, visit Optimist Theatre online.