“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” I thought when I first heard that director Aaron Cromie intended to stage Shakespeare’s nearly 20-character A Midsummer Night’s Dream with six actors at the Hedgerow Theatre. Not for skill, necessarily, but for sheer logistics (especially knowing the Lantern Theatre sometimes struggles as it annually performs one of the Bard’s plays with a cast of eight).
Midsummer focuses on four different plots and character groupings, two of which involve mistaken identities and affections crisscrossed by the intervention of mischievous fairies. And the final scene should involve six of the characters watching a troupe of six more performing a play within a play.
Through a fantastically streamlined edit of the text and some smart choices, however, Cromie unites the play’s disparate threads into a seemingly singular stream of action. Elizabeth Hanson’s simple costumes enable quick changes, including a red kerchief that, when donned, reflects Cromie’s decision to have multiple actors in turn play Puck, the troublesome sprite at the heart of Midsummer’s merriment.
Hedgerow’s 90-minute staging starts slow but slides by effortlessly once underway. It often seems like a sketch comedy group’s approach to the play; the audience knows the same actors play multiple roles with each scene change, and mostly indulges their attempt, in shortened form, to inhabit the roles afresh and seamlessly.
Allison Bloechl well-demarcates her appearance as both the snubbed lover Helena and the faerie queen Titania, adding an endearing youthful longing to the former. Josh Portera and Madalyn St. John sparkle in their unrequited love, she throwing a high-schooler’s tantrums, and he tripping dweebishly across the stage as he pursues her.
Cromie cast Susan Wefel as (the traditionally male) Bottom, an interesting choice that Wefel handles deftly, proving that a comic part, even one as envied as Bottom, often needs only sharp timing and the clever wit to play it.
Cromie’s sound design filled the interludes with festive music, and Jared Reed’s lighting helped believably transform Shaun Yates’ single-platform set design into a forest filled with magic. Hedgerow’s minimal production mined the charm and spirit of this play, leaving me smiling at the silliness of mortals — in the play this time — rendered deftly by this reduced repertory.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Through June 11 at the Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley. Tickets: $20. Information: 610-565-4211 or hedgerowtheatre.org