by MATT REVILLE, Staff Writer
Give the Arlington Players an A-plus both for ambition and for perseverance when it comes to its close-out-the-season production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The show, initially planned for presentation in 2020, was derailed several times by COVID, but finally has arrived (appropriately, as mid-summer approaches) and has proved, in many ways, well worth the wait.
But first, a caveat, having little to do with this production but more with the literary work itself. (Can you believe I’m about to quibble with Shakespeare? When one must, one must.)
The show is a complicated one, both for cast/crew and, perhaps more so, for audiences, with overlapping plots that, to the uninitiated, leave one in the same daze as an audience member at a Quentin Tarantino film: You just have to go with the flow in the assumption that, in the end, all will be revealed and it will all make some degree of sense.
Erin Branigan and Katie Rey Bogdan, who adapted the original (Branigan also directs this production), moved the setting from ancient Athens to the early 1920s. But all the other elements are intact: You’ve got your feuding fairy king and queen and their assorted minions (led by the indefatigable Puck); Theseus, the local lord, prepping for his own wedding while trying to provide Solomon-like wisdom as Hermius, Lysandra, Demetria and Helenus vie for each other’s affections; a band of laborers putting on a play to mark the wedding; and various unintended love matches owing to Puck’s machinations.
Will all end up well? Hang in there and everything will become clear. And, if you want to make sure you follow along, there is a very taut, five-paragraph synopsis in the playbill. Be forewarned: It contains a few spoilers for those never before exposed to this Shakespeare classic, but can be a big help to first-timers in keeping things straight.
Director Branigan, who had found herself facing an unexpectedly long gestation period as the production was delayed and delayed some more by the pandemic, said it was her goal to have audiences “rediscover the simple, everyday magic that felt like it was disappearing from the world – a place to celebrate love, joy and beauty.” The show mostly hit the mark, and even managed some curious but certainly enjoyable moments, such as a character belting out the catchy 1960s British Invasion tune “I’m Henry VII, I Am” for no truly discernible reason. (For the record, the always fun Peter Noone, who made that song a hit, will be performing at the Birchmere in Alexandria later in the month. Not a plug; just an aside.)
Performances were by and large admirably strong. A sampling:
• Alden Michels and Kimberly James as Oberon and Titania, monarchs of the fairies whose infighting helps lead to all that will follow.
• Apollo Yong as the whirling dervish that is Puck; it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he skedaddles across the stage. (Nat Berelovich will portray the role in July 9-10 performances.)
• Alex Lew, Mike Kelley, Naomi Park and Emma Wesslund as, in order, Hermius, Helenus, Lysandra and Demetria, the youngsters attempting to work out exactly who is in love with whom. Judy Lewis is the overbearing (I kid …) mother trying to control her son’s choice of mate.
• Steve Rosenthal, Ben Lowater, Chris Hanson, Kate Ives, Rachael Fine and Jay Sikand as the merry band of tradesmen-cum-thespians, trying to prepare for a show amid the increasingly odd situations that they find themselves in. Though the roles are less caffeinated than that of Puck, each of those actors has a good time creatively hamming it up.
(That’s a sampling, and is not to discount those not mentioned, including the fairy company that provides some great visual and musical moments. And as an aside: Always check out the actor bios in community-theater playbills. We learn that the Puck-ish Yong is in law school and Lew previously portrayed Mary Ann in Dominion Stage’s production of “Gilligan’s Fire Island,” which I did not see but based on the name alone I wish I had.)
Branigan, making her Arlington Players’ directorial debut, and her assistant directors keep the action moving – it’s a long show but feels spritely, so to speak. Sets (David Moretti, Maureen Dawson, Sabrina McAllister) are quite effective, while costuming such a large and varied cast (Anna Marquardt) deserves extra credit.
Donna Korn composed the special music for the show, and it’s worth mentioning Mallory Shear and Morgan DeHart as “fight and intimacy” choreographer and captain, respectively. (We could all use such support staff in our lives.)
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare in general and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in particular, you will come away more than satisfied with this outing. If it is new to you, either bone up on the background so you don’t get derailed trying to follow the plot complexities, or just let the show wash over you and enjoy its surreally creative presence.
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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through July 10 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre in Arlington. There are no vaccination requirements, but audience members are strongly encouraged to stay masked during the performance.
For tickets and information, see the Website at thearlingtonplayers.org.