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Sweet dreams are made of this: School of Drama’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ shines

Strong directing, acting, and production design give this play its magic

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You’ve seen this story before: Lysander loves Hermia. Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius. Demetrius loves Hermia. The only possible thing that could make this any more complicated is a bunch of quarreling fairies and a magical love potion. 

Since its debut in the 17th century, William Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has become a poster child for free love and hallucinogenic drugs, and now you can see all that magic in the School of Drama’s rendition of the classic play. 

Director Scott Kaiser, a “veteran of [the] Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” presents a play as funny as it is bizarre, as charming as it is poignant. The play is semi-modernized, so though the actors still speak in soliloquy and iambic pentameter, they also wear snappy pantsuits, use Google maps, and jam out to some jazzy doo-wop music. 

Though modernized Shakespeare can sometimes appear badly when paired with the 17th-century prose, Kaiser knows when to throw in these details and when to hold back. He also refuses to turn the character’s relationships into mere jokes, taking the time to build a background of trust between the characters that makes it all the more heartbreaking (and, let’s face it, all the funnier) when it’s destroyed later in the play. 

The cast, comprised almost entirely of UW MFA students, took the absurd comedy of the show in stride and put on a laugh-out-loud performance. The real star of the show, though, was Bottom, the blustery, arrogant weaver who believes he is destined for the stage, played by Andrés Rodriguez, a second-year MFA student in the acting program.

Perhaps the most iconic character of the show, Rodriguez’s portrayal of Bottom stands especially tall alongside an already comedically talented cast. Whether he’s rapping a soliloquy or hamming it up in his fake death scene, Rodriguez was a constant high note throughout the play, both in human form and once he’s been turned into a donkey by mischievous fairies. 

Another standout was Hailey Henderson, a third-year MFA student in the acting program who plays Puck. She holds strong as the pulse of the show, constantly pushing the characters into weirder and weirder situations and filling the show with its fair share of mischief and dramatic cross-stage leaps. 

Guan Ying Lee, a second-year MFA student in the design program at the School of Drama, gave the show dimension and direction through outstanding costume design. As the night descends into madness, so do the actors’ clothes, slowly shifting from the monochromes favored by the Athenians in the play to the bright colors and florals more common among the fairies. 

Chih-Hung Shao, light designer and another MFA student, adds a dreamlike quality to the play by contrasting the stark white lights of Athens with the gold and pink lights of the forest and the fairies’ dwellings. 

That dreamlike quality is something that Kaiser’s direction carries throughout the play. With everything from multiple moons hung in the sky to the songs played at intermission, all elements of this play remind you that it is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Though the sparse set stands in somewhat awkward contrast to the colorful costumes of the forest and the play’s loud comedy, it does accomplish one thing very well: You must imagine the setting almost entirely yourself.  

An occasional fourth wall break blurs the lines between the absurd fiction happening on stage and the reality of the rest of the theater. The actors speak as if they can see the audience, they hide amongst the seats as if they are merely part of the forest no one can see but everyone knows must be there. And when Puck enters in the final scenes and bids the audience to consider the events we saw as but a dream, it’s a compelling argument. 

Overall, Kaiser’s direction and the comedic talent of the cast push this play near Shakespearean perfection. It’s a show that makes you work to see the magic, but once you look, you can’t look away. Although, maybe that’s just more fairy spellwork. 

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”will be playing through Nov. 10 at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse on the Ave. Tickets and information can be found online

Reach contributing writer Sarah May at Twitter: @SarahM3204

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