‘Midsummer’ in the midwinter is a must-see at Cyrano’s

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” currently running at Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse, is perhaps the mst dependable entertaining play ever written. Actors and audiences can go through the show without worrying whether it will be fun; everyone knows it is nigh impossible to screw up. The March 4 premier left the audience howling with laughter.

The renowned story revolves around a love rectangle involving Hermia (Anthea Carnes), her love Lysander (Will Martinez), his rival Demetrius (Bobby Woofter) and Demetrius’ would-be lover Helena (Betsy Bell). With a little magic from the swift-footed sprite Puck (Don Love), Shakespeare’s most incorrigible mischief-maker, the boys suddently lust after Helena and spurn Hermia, must to the ladies’ surprise and disbelief. Complementing the silly antics of the young lovers are the even sillier antics of older lovers, namely the estranged king and queen of the fairies, Oberon (Paul Schweigert) and Titania (Elizabeth Ware). Oberon seeks to humiliate Titania by dabbing a potion in her eye that makes her fall in love with the plodding, innocent Nick Bottom the weaver (Brent Bateman), whom Puck transmogrifies to have the head of a donkey. With all this going on, how will Bottom’s dopey theater troupe be able to perform their play for the Duke of Athens on his wedding day?

The absurdity of the plot almost assures by itself that the play will be worth the price of admission. There can be no doubt that this is a farce but it would seem shortsighted to dismiss anything ol’ Shakespeare wrote as meaningless. As the actors bounced about Friday night, reveling in their characters’ silliness and professing their love with reckless, swooning abandon, I as struck with the idea that maybe love, and all that comes with it, is really no more important that a dream and it deserves no more recognition or dedication than such images that come to us in our sleep. Of course I couldn’t think about that very long; there was too much wackiness happening onstage.

The cast does a fine job. Bateman looked as though he was having more fun onstage than ever before, and Schweigert employed a deliciously maniacal laugh that channeled the spirit of Snidely Whiplash. The surprise scene-stealer was Bell, whose desperate fondness and stubborn pining for her love made Demetrius’ vain attempts to ward her off with cruelty seem pathetic. Bell and Woofter had definite chemistry.

Then entire cast deserves credit, and special applause is due to director David Edgecombe for the wild physicality of the production. Edgecombe has crafted a complex blocking scheme full of surprises and slapstick, which every member of the cast committed to fully. They jumped all over the stage, pantomimed and pulled each other with invisible ropes so that before long I had the feeling that anything could happen.

This could have created a problem; because the action is so continually zany, Edgecombe has to constantly top himself. But he handled the energy well, building it to the frenzied play-within-a-play finale. I did feel there were times when the movement detracted form Shakespeare’s beautiful prose, or overshadowed some of his famous wit, but no matter – the audience loved it.

The simple set was covered in painted, Day-Glo vines and leaves, and the costumes were rough, bizarre and brightly colored. The combination of set and costumes gave the performance a psychedelic tone, lending nicely to the mystic, fantastical feel of the story.

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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is undoubtedly the feel-good show of the year. The production is part of a nationwide effort to bring Shakespeare to younger audiences, so it is truly universally appealing. Anybody 5 years and older should get a kick out of this play.