This week it is finally, unquestionably, officially summer. So it's safe to uncurl from your fetal, polar vortex position, put away your electrically-heated Snuggie, and emerge into the sunlight. Another sure sign of summer is that the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is up and running again, offering free productions of two of old Will's scribblings at various outdoor locations around town. It's easy to attend: Just wipe the cobwebs off your lawn chairs and head out to a nearby park or public square where Cleveshakes is set to perform, and you'll have yourself a dandy evening.
Their first effort this year is the always-popular comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, and this one is quite a hoot. Directed with infectious good humor and sprightly wit by Dusten Welch, the 90-minute intermission-less romp is, you should pardon the expression, fun for the whole family.
In the world of MND, there are two parallel populations, the mortals and the fairies, that clash when they meet in the forest. The fairies are led by Oberon and Titania, who are neck-deep in trying to manage the affairs of the mortals who surround them. To wit, Titania wants Theseus, Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons to wed. Meanwhile, additional mortals stir the pot since Hermia and Lysander want to get hitched, but her father prefers Demetrius as a son-in-law. But Demetrius is pursued by a gob-smacked Helena, a girl whom he can't stand. So they all run off to the woods to sort things out.
Since Shakespeare loves subplots, we also have a gaggle of rough-hewn folk who plan to mount a play at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. This ungainly group, led by the self-aggrandizing Bottom, decides to rehearse their thespian effort in the forest, which is getting pretty crowded by this point.
Indeed, that's the same leafy glade where Titania is throwing her hissy fairy-fit, so Oberon gets pissed and sends his servant Puck to squeeze some Love Potion #9 into the eyes of his wife while she sleeps. This will make her fall passionately in love with the first thing she sees. Oberon also decides to have his servant douse Demetrius' eyes so he will fall in love with rejected Helena.
Oberon's prank works to perfection in one case, since Titania awakes to see Bottom wearing an ass's head and falls head-over-donkey for the long-eared rube. But the rest of the potion, misdirected, gets the four lovers all tangled up until the comical and happy ending.
Director Welch has double- and triple-cast these roles, which makes for some entertaining juxtapositions. Roderick O'Toole and Daniel Ott play Lysander and Demetrius with jaunty spirit, then morph into both rustics and fairies when needed. Jennifer Cull also does similar double duty as Hermia and others, as does Alli St. John as the put-upon Helena, and others.
Ryan Edlinger provides a solid fulcrum for the craziness as Oberon and Theseus, and he's paired nicely with Pamela Harwood as Titania and Hippolyta. But the most fun is generated by Hillary Wheelock, who brings snap and sizzle to Puck, and Allen Branstein who has scenery-munching fun as Bottom.
There's plenty of running around and screaming, so even kids will enjoy this production. And adults will get a splendid dose of rowdy Shakespearian fun.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Through June 29, free, cleveshakes.com.
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