Whether you're Shakespeare-savvy or not, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company aims to make you a lover. "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which opened the company's ninth summer festival last weekend at the Patuxent Female Institute Historic Park, goes a long way toward doing just that.
Director Ian Gallanar likes creating interplay between his audiences and art. Of the dozen or so shows he has directed for Chesapeake Shakespeare, his 2005 rendition of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was memorable for its 1920s settings filled with fairies dressed as belly dancers and sheiks.
This time around, the outdoors stone ruins of the Patuxent Female Institute have been transformed into a Victorian carnival. Before the show, patrons can picnic, mingle with costumed cast members, play carnival games, enjoy live music and watch magic demonstrations.
It is through this alternate universe that the farce begins in ancient Greece, at the celebration of the marriage of the Duke of Athens to the Queen of the Amazons.
Circumstance drives four lovers and a motley acting troupe into the magic woodlands outside of Athens. On the command of the Fairy King, the devilish Puck enchants Demetrius, Lysander and the Fairy Queen by slipping them a magic potion, thus orchestrating a series of convoluted and hysterical amorous mishaps.
Gallanar's carnival vision was mostly successful, although more pageantry was suggested than delivered, due to an unexpected downpour.
Just as "the course of true love never did run smooth," marauding thunder and lightening delayed the show on opening night. A tightrope that may or may not be intended for use hung sadly untouched and there were no pre-show combat demonstrations.
Once the show dried off and warmed up, the aural and visual elements proceeded to mesh almost seamlessly.
Musical director Kevin J. Costa's eclectic choice of music fit the surreal transitions between time and space — everything from the lively lyrics of "Some Folks" by 19th-century American composer Stephen Foster to 20th century tunes by Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart.
Patrick Kilpatrick's combat choreography made the most of a vivacious fight scene between Helena and her bewitched pursuers,Lysander and Demetrius. And the marionette-like moves of the dancing fairies as choreographed by Nellie K. Glover served to underscore the puppetry aspects of the plot.
In this interpretation, the female fairies are dressed in pretty pastel-colored fairy tunics with wispy wings – except for Titania, who wears a similar costume in blood red. Against the backdrop of the park's natural trees, the rest of the cast appear in romantic Victorian garb.
Three sets of characters inhabit overlapping realities: the Athenian Court preparing for the duke's wedding; the Band of Fairies led by a feuding king and queen; and the Athenian Laborers, the "rude mechanicals" who perform a play within the play and steal away the ending.
Gallanar has double-cast the actors who play the royal couples: Jose Guzman plays Thesues, the Duke of Athens, and Oberon, the King of the Fairies; and Molly Moores is Hippoltya, Thesues' betrothed, and Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Guzman is engaging enough in both roles, but Moores commands the night sky with her stage presence.
As Hermia and Helena, Listol and Kelly seem miscast. Curiously, Gallanar has chosen the less animated actress to play the rebellious Hermia, who defies her father and runs off with her lover. Switching the two roles may have proven a better decision
As the mischievous Puck, James Jager performed some amusing shtick when a rumbling helicopter intruded on his scene. And Puck's and the baby fairies' musical number, "Blue Moon," proved equally enchanting.
David R. Tabish absolutely twinkles under the stars as Bottom, while fellow resident artist Greg Burgess delivers great fun as Flute portraying the "woman" in the play within the play
Spectators will find little that's droll or sinister or intellectual in Gallanar's celebratory interpretation. Inventive props and lots of visual puns add to the enjoyment of characters like the foolish Bottom, who gets turned into a donkey and becomes the butt of jokes.
Written before "Much Ado About Nothing," "As You Like It" or "Twelfth Night;" "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is considered by many to be Shakespeare's first comedic masterpiece.
And if, perchance, you don't love the blithesome show, Puck invites you to pretend it was all but a dream.
A Midsummer Night's Dream continues through June 24 at the Patuxent Female Institute Historic Park, 3691 Sara's Lane, in Ellicott City. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with special family friendly Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $36. Children and active military are free. For ticket information, call 410-313-8661 or go to http://www.ChesapeakeShakespeare.com.