Unique ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ a Stroke of Genius
Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by David Blakeman
There are a few things you should know about the GCU production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
- Shakespeare can be funnier than you think possible. And we don’t mean hee-hee funny. We mean belly-laugh hilarious.
- Michael Kary is a genius-in-residence on our campus. From his fertile imagination has come a postmodern adaptation of “Midsummer” that includes characters text-messaging one another onstage.
- If you don’t go see this, you will miss out in a big way. And if you don’t have a ticket already for the second weekend — they’re scarce — you probably won’t get to see it. That’s an indication of how good GCU’s productions have become.
- When Kary, a GCU alumnus and instructor, directed “Dracula” in the Ethington Theatre Series back in October, there was a sense that the Theatre Department had taken a quantum leap forward.
Now it has done so again with Kary’s fresh take on one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and Friday’s opening-night audience confirmed it with an after-show buzz unlike any since “The Pirates of Penzance” in August 2010 (which, not coincidentally, featured Kary in a starring role).
Here’s what happened along the way: Instead of merely presenting faithful re-creations of the familiar (nothing wrong with that), GCU’s productions have crossed over into unique interpretation under Kary, Dean Claude Pensis, Assistant Dean Bill Symington and an army of extraordinarily gifted students willing to take on any challenge.
How else to explain a “Midsummer” scenic design with large video screens on either side of the stage, used to display Facebook-like profiles of the Shakespearean characters? Or the five fairy servants portrayed as a 1960s-era girl group? Or a finger-popping company musical number at the play’s end, Billy Joel’s “The River of Dreams”? Or a brilliant, show-stealing turn by the versatile Josh Vanderpoel as Bottom the Weaver that taps into the physical style of comedy popularized by the late John Belushi and Chris Farley?
It’s all there on the Ethington stage over the course of two hours, and Kary’s liner notes in the program offer some insight into what he was thinking.
“The joy in bringing you this play … was in figuring out how to make the play’s universal themes timely and fun,” Kary writes.
“Midsummer” is a carnival of fun, revolving as it does around the confusing and often zany romantic antics of four characters: Lysander (Jake Swanson), Demetrius (Drew Swaine), Hermia (Elizabeth Pabst) and Helena (Krystle Brumm). All four actors are flat-out terrific in their roles, and keeping it all straight is secondary to sitting back and enjoying what’s going on.
In fact, fine performances abound among the large cast. Even comparatively smaller roles played by Adam Benavides (Oberon), Tabitha Valentine (Titania), Holly Nordquist (Puck) and De’Onte Lemons (Flute the Bellow Mender) are played to perfection.
In less capable hands, the technological references would come off as gimmicky. But Kary has a point to make, and it’s this: Our love affair with computers and cell phones is every bit as ridiculous as the over-the-top interplay among the characters, forcing us to think about what we value in life. Do we know what love is? Is it increasingly out of reach? The questions are worth pondering.
The “Midsummer” production is full of small touches, too, so pay attention to them. Yes, those are various dream-themed songs playing before the opening curtain and at intermission: Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver,” Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover” and the often-recorded “Dream a Little Dream of Me” are among them.
And just when you think the play is over, there’s a short concluding video, in the mode of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — kudos here to Gregg Elder and his film students — and it’s guaranteed to have you in stitches on your way out of the theatre.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” concludes with three shows next weekend, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 639.8880 for ticket information.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.