Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

A nice turn by the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, in Rockwood Mansion Park. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews from Wilmington.

Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

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Caroline Crocker, as Titania, falls under a spell with Adam Altman, as Bottom, in Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo by Alexandra Orgera.

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, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter.

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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.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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