In production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s more versatile plays, suitable for everything from outdoor performances in the park to elaborate conceptual spectacles under the proscenium arch to big budget antics on the silver screen. The Hedgerow Theatre Company and director Aaron Cromie take advantage of its flexible nature to show off their own versatility, packing the play’s wit, humor, and magic into an adaptation designed for just six actors.
The production began its life on tour, reflected in the relatively simple costumes and set. The play is performed in modern dress with each actor gaining or shedding layers to differentiate their triple- and quadruple-cast roles. Costume designer Elizabeth Hanson does a clever job packing a lot of detail into a few articles of clothing: both Allison Bloechl’s Helena and Madalyn St. John’s Hermia essentially wear the same outfit (a vest with their school crest, black skirt and leggings, and sneakers), but Helena’s longer skirt and glasses signify a less conventionally attractive appearance to the shallow (say, Demetrius). Bloechl’s other roles illustrate Hanson’s adaptability: a long patchwork skirt and crocheted vest completes the groovy ensemble of hippie Robin Starveling, while a flowing orange robe and flower crown transforms her into the fairy queen Titania. The latter (and its similar counterpart for Oberon) is slightly less successful, as even the most seasoned actors would find it hard to pull off the otherworldly gravitas of the fairy characters in sensible shoes; however, Puck’s costume of a green hoodie and red gnome hat perfectly blends otherworldly aura with a modern aesthetic.
The set, constructed by Shaun Yates and Zoran Kovcic (Theseus, Oberon, Peter Quince) creatively incorporates the Hedgerow’s unique performance space. The doors and windows of the old mill (whose façade backs the stage) are blocked by encroaching vegetation; meanwhile, the stage is covered in mulch, and a soundtrack of bird sounds completes the illusion of a historical structure being reclaimed by nature, an excellent choice for Midsummer’s dichotomy of civilization and wild space. There is one drawback to this arrangement, as the blue gym floor mats (necessary for the copious pratfalls) arranged as a makeshift thrust stage at first appear very out of place. However, though this seems incongruous with the setting, it quickly proves a suitable complement for the show’s humor: the characters remain totally unaware of the small island of mats except whenever they try to enter stage right and trip right into a running gag.
The cast is very strong, and individually, each role is funny and effective — all the more impressive given that every actor is responsible for no less than three separate parts throughout the show. Allison Bloechl gives Helena a sassy frustration and expertly delivers physical comedy, but her hippie Robin Starveling is just as memorable with a recreational substance-assisted easygoing attitude and an insistence on gender-inclusive vocabulary. Similarly, Josh Portera’s Lysander is at first charming and then hilariously love-sick, fending off his equally infatuated rival Demetrius (Mark Swift) with an expertise in the slap-based martial arts; Portera’s Snug the joiner, meanwhile, is enthusiastic but timid, prone to stage-fright, and needs his big line (“Roar”) written down immediately so he has enough time to commit it to memory. But even if these skillful performances were not a convincing enough display of their talents, the cast’s joint work as Puck illustrates that they can also play each other: Susan Wefel, Madalyn St. John, Bloechl, Portera, and Swift all take turns as that merry wanderer of the night, each maintaining his humor and mischievous attitude.
Aaron Cromie’s adaptation of Midsummer would be notable just for the huge logistical accomplishment of successfully adapting it for six people: characters are combined, lines are reassigned, and scenes are reordered, but the play’s basic themes and most memorable moments are never lost in the shuffle. However, Cromie’s work does not merely alter Shakespeare’s play for necessity, but draws out clever parallels and new sources of humor. Traditionally doubled roles like Theseus/Oberon (Zoran Kovcic) and Hippolyta/Titania (Bloechl) make an appearance, bringing up implicit parallels between those characters; by extension, having the low-key blowhard Egeus paired with high-key blowhard Bottom (Wefel), or the four Athenian lovers also doubled as the rude mechanicals, raises questions about attempting to direct someone’s life (as a parent or fairy) in comparison to being directed in an unintentionally hilarious farce. Meanwhile, the production’s light-hearted attitude takes gleeful advantage of the now-metatheatrical nature of lines such as “Is all our company here?” and “What, a play toward? I’ll be an auditor, / an actor too perhaps, if I see cause.”
The result is a fun and energetic compact production by a talented cast and crew. Hedgerow Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream combines creativity, enthusiasm, and skill for a fresh take on a popular classic.