By Jim Rutter
Whenever I see a contemporary production of Shakespeare, I’m always afraid of the cuts to the original. What will the company trim to render three-to-five act classics into a 21/2 hour staging for modern sensibilities? Which speech, scene, or character will not find its way to the stage?
I felt a variation on this worry while watching Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s visually captivating, mirth-filled production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with one recurring thought: It’s not enough!
Not enough of Bethanie Wampol’s set or Vickie Esposito’s ornamented costumes, with deep-blue backdrops and purple drapes inspired by Jodhpur, India. Esposito decked the “adults” of the cast — Brian Anthony Wilson’s imperious King Oberon and Eleni Delopoulos’ Titania — in ivory dresses and blood-red jackets. The quartet of confused young lovers she adorned in more contemporary styles, although I questioned the Chuck Taylors under the bright tops and pants and rolled my eyes at the visible Nike logo on the yoga tights worn by Puck (Melissa Dunphy).
Until one spellbinding scene in Act Two, there was almost certainly not enough of the young foursome that anchors the bulk of Shakespeare’s whimsical plot. Jenna Kuerzi’s Hermia and Jessica Giannone’s Helena scratched and clawed like alley cats, the roguish Lysander (Josh Kachnycz) and doltish Demetrius (Arlen Hancock) the pieces of meat they fought over.
Without any sense of silly slapstick or cheap humor, these young actors delighted with their emotion-laden expressions of Shakespeare’s quick-witted poetry, delivered by Kuerzi and Giannone’s excellent portrayals and clear voices. Credit director Carmen Khan for her straightforward yet hilarious blocking, using a pair of Cirque du Soleil-style drapes as nets, tree branches, and hammocks.
And I certainly didn’t get enough of Jon Zak’s portrayal of Bottom, the preening yet hapless leader of an acting troupe who wanders into the woods and finds himself transformed into an ass. Zak stirs laughter with the raised eyebrows of a quizzical glance; his face emotes as though in a cartoon, each word a cue for hilarity.
This production revels in its own merriment, with Fabian Obispo’s percussion and string compositions playing like a film score, the Indian-inspired garb and settings catching the eye. By curtain, it lacked only a Bollywood dance sequence. And then choreographer Colleen Hughes capped the play, and my worry of “not enough” still lingered, because I only wanted to enjoy this Midsummer more.