Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is an intricate web of imagination and poetry, a rich mixture of folklore, flights of fancy, humor, wonder and homages to human nature. Its sheer breadth and depth call for a clear and consistent vision on the part of its director and that's precisely what it has gotten from Ethan McSweeny in his novel, thoroughly unconventional Shakespeare Theatre Company production of "Dream."
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" braids together three stories, all of which are related to the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Tim Campbell), and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Sara Topham). The first story outlines the fates of four star-crossed lovers: Hermia (Amelia Pedlow) who loves Lysander (Robert Beitzel) and Helena (Christiana Clark) who loves Demetrius (Chris Myers).
The second story involves a group of workmen rehearsing a play that will be performed at the wedding. The third tale involves the fairies Oberon and Titania and the mischievous sprite Puck (Adam Green).
McSweeny's approach physically separates the world of contemporary life in Theseus' 1940s court from the fairies' world of magic and transformation. Set designer Lee Savage places the Duke and his retinue on a stage within a stage, standing before a curtain in Scene I.
|A Midsummer Night's Dream'|
|Where: Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW|
|When: Through Dec. 30|
|Info: $43 to $105; 202-547-1122; ShakespeareTheatre.org|
When the workmen come to practice in Scene II, the curtain is drawn back to reveal a rehearsal hall of the theater, full of costume racks and lights. When the workmen depart, the back door of the theater is thrown open to reveal a still wider world, the forest: the way is clear for the fairies to appear.
In keeping with the "separate worlds" notion, costume designer Jennifer Moeller dresses the lovers in modern clothes and the fairies in eclectic clothes that seem drawn from some never-seen Fellini film: a Napoleonic hat, stockings, a feather shawl, a helmet. Tyler Micoleau's lighting and composer Fitz Patton's music help create a sense of the ethereal.
The success of any "Dream" depends on having great actors in the lead roles and indeed Campbell, Topham, Pedlow, Beitzel, Clark, Myers and Green convey all the questioning, whimsy, humor and seriousness Shakespeare packed into their roles.
But the brilliance of this "Dream" comes primarily from two facts. First, it's a true ensemble production. Every fairy, every Mechanical (Ted van Griethuysen, Bruce Dow, David Graham Jones, Herschel Sparber, Robert Dorfman, Christopher Bloch) provides a stellar performance. Second, it delivers Shakespeare's language perfectly.
A midsummer day in Shakespeare's time was a time of merrymaking, when anything could happen. The night of a midsummer day, and the dreams people could have in those nights, were extraordinary. Through his vision and with the help of his actors and designers, McSweeny captures the spirit of that extraordinariness.