By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Oh, those crazy, mixed-up Athenian kids of yore. In the spirited telling of the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they are tricked by the magic of the forest, and in a setting that suits their many confusions well: Wilmington’s Rockwood Mansion Park.
There, bookended by two willow trees, the able cast plays out Shakespeare’s popular comedy, and also bows to the festival’s history. Midsummer was the first production of the festival 10 years ago.
I didn’t see that one, but I can tell you that the current version, staged by the festival’s new artistic director, David Stradley, works nicely on its small open-air stage backed by Christopher Haig’s whimsical setting of large Xs and Os that sit helter-skelter atop three larger Os that are essentially stage entrances from the real woods.
Stradley, who has directed on several area stages and most notably at Delaware Theatre Company, gets an assist here from Mother Nature; as the night of strange happenings unfolds in the play and the sky over Rockwood Mansion Park darkens, a chorus of cicadas in the woods begins to buzz without letup, providing a real feel to the events of the story. Life not only imitates art, it complements it.
Those playing the frustrated young lovers — Sarah Van Auken, Jamal Douglas, Jennifer Starr Foley and Sean Bradley — are all convincing in their meltdowns, and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen is an engaging and springy Puck. His boss, Oberon — the king of the nighttime woods — is played with the strangest interpretation by Matt Tallman; usually, Oberon’s a commanding dynamo, but Tallman diminishes him at first as a whiny, willful kid who can’t get his way with the fairy queen Titania (the endearing Caroline Crocker), then grows into the more solid character.
The “rude mechanicals” — Shakespeare’s of working stiffs who put on a play within this play – are led by James Kassees as their playwright and Adam Altman as the overblown Bottom. Although they’re fun, Stradley doesn’t give them enough schtik to do in the eventual performance of their ill-fated play. He does, however, use the woods well, giving players entrances and exits from the woods all around the audience.
There's fairy magic in this play, in the able hands of Stephen A. Manocchio, whose sound design signifies the trickery. Alex Buckner choreographed several bits — one dance, between Oberon and Titania, is especially nice — and David Amado, music director of the Delaware Symphony, composed the pleasant original music.
The production loses some of its edge at the very end, when Stradley takes Shakespeare’s vague “song and dance” stage direction literally and has the cast sing 20 or so almost-final lines. They do this weakly and meekly, as if someone has asked them to try it for the first time, and as a result, the lines are unclear. It leaves you feeling that this particular dream, once clear, has fizzled into a state of consciousness.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Presented by the Delaware Shakespeare Festival at Rockwood Mansion Park, just south of Shipley Road on the Washington Street Extension, Wilmington, Del., through July 28. Tickets: $15. Information: 302-415-3373 or www.delshakes.org.