With a tight budget, company stages energetic, lushly colorful Shakespeare on the Common
As the Bard (almost) put it, Midsummer's lease has all too short a date. If you want to see this year's Free Shakespeare on the Common, a vivid and bouncy "Midsummer Night's Dream," you'll have to get there by Sunday.
This year's truncated run -- down from three weeks to less than one -- is just one sign of trouble for Shakespeare on the Common, which also faces a slashed budget and a smaller stage. But Steven Maler, artistic director of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (a name the Citi Performing Arts Center has subsumed, along with the Wang's), makes the most of his diminished resources to stage a lively version of Shakespeare's comedy about entangled lovers, both mortal and elfin.
Maler and his design team give the fairies' forest a bright, boppy feel; it's not the most ethereal enchantment you'll ever see, but the nearly fluorescent palette of oranges and magentas guarantees that you will see it, even from the farthest hummock. Clint Ramos bedecks the fairies in sleek, vaguely Trekkie action-figure bodysuits, softened (or camped up, or both) with boas, shrugs, capes, and other feathery embellishments. They're all as shiny as the balloons that designer Beowulf Boritt clumps around his Astroturf set in place of trees.
Ramos uses a few balloons, too, to augment the wittily awful tarp-and-duct-tape costumes for the rude mechanicals' just-rude-enough staging of "Pyramus and Thisbe." Balloons, in fact, may be the show's real star -- or at least its moon, in the form of a large white balloon that's tethered to a corner of the turf and lifts it playfully aloft. Thanks to Nancy Goldstein's punched-up lighting, the moon even changes color as the characters move from rational Athens to fantastic forest: from sensible white to wacky purple, pink, and then, on that rare and happy night of total harmony that closes the comedy, blue.
If this all sounds more like H.R. Pufnstuf's playpen than William Shakespeare's play, it's nevertheless appropriate for the kid-friendly silliness that drives this production. Things drag a bit whenever we're left alone with the two pairs of young lovers, who too often lapse into galloping or singsong rhythms in speaking verse, but the clowns and fairies pop up regular ly enough to keep the show rollicking along.
None is more rollicking than Trinity Rep stalwart Fred Sullivan Jr., who makes the clownish Bottom's self-adoration so infectious that we can't help loving him too. His death scene (yes, it involves balloons) is hilariously excessive, his dancing deliriously self-mocking, his donkey-headed braying exquisite, and yet he also gives Bottom's bewilderment when he's disenchanted an appropriate tinge of melancholy awe.
Antonio Edwards-Suarez, meanwhile, had my young companion chortling at his snuffling, somersaulting wild-beast interpretation of the mischievous fairy Puck. Grownups might wish for a bit more lyricism under the antics, but there's no denying the, er, animal magnetism of Edwards-Suarez's approach. And any Shakespeare production that makes a 9-year-old exclaim, "I want to see this again!" is fine by me.
This wild Puck is a nice foil, too, for the stately grandeur of Johnny Lee Davenport's Oberon, who sometimes sounds almost too majestic for the rambunctious atmosphere. Mimi Bilinski's Titania is wonderfully imperious -- even her absurd flirtatiousness with Bottom has the steely undertone of a woman who always gets her way -- but she, like Davenport, seems more at ease as a fairy ruler than a human one, as both must become when doubling as Hippolyta and Theseus.
Among the rest of the substantial cast, Shelley Bolman imbues Snug the joiner with understated humor; Doug Lockwood has a truly shining moment as the man in the moon. And Larry Coen provides sheer delight as the fussy, nervous Peter Quince, who runs the mechanicals' rehearsals with all the angst and hauteur of a starstruck little-theater guy seizing his moment in the sun.
J Hagenbuckle gives everybody plenty of weird sounds to swoon by and even weirder ones to dance to; at times, thanks to the club music and Anna Myer's stylized choreography, the forest takes on an almost disco vibe. With any luck, though, the era of free Shakespeare on Boston Common will last longer than disco did.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.