Despite their name—Chaotic Theatre—this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is not chaotic at all; rather, it’s a straight up, by the rules staging of Shakespeare's most popular comedy.
This doesn't mean that it’s tidy or even. Director Michael Floyd and the Chaotic Theatre band have some assorted neat ideas but little vision to tie them together.
Two guitars, a drum, and a female singer who is part of a combo named "11 Cent Confidence," provide music before the show, during Intermission, and intermittently throughout. They look and play like a standard Austin garage band, camping out solemnly deep stage right as the play proceeds.
For some unexplained reason, the stage is dressed with mounds of garbage left and right.
Some in the company are very good, while others are barely in control of their speech and movement. Andrew Black is particularly accomplished at creating the hammy self-importance of Bottom the weaver, ass and actor. Black’s minimalist framework donkey headdress, a magical piece of costuming, is credited to costume designers Cassie Padgett and Tara Bland.
Black, Andrew Matthews as Demetrius, and Grace Lubeck as the fair Hermia are all energetic, alert, well-spoken and vested in the action, attracting our eyes and our sympathy whenever they appear on stage.
The redheaded Franc Freye as Lysander is almost as good as his rival. But compare the very different moments when Freye and Matthews awaken with potion-annointed eyes for the woebegone Helena: Freye seems groggy and hypnotized, while Matthews in his turn is visibly dumbstruck and literally enchanted by the sight of her.
Jane Kilgore as the put-upon Helena is suitably bewildered. She has her lines down pat, but at times seems uncertain about just what to do with her hands or where to look. Whether by decision or omission, director Michael Floyd appears not to have defined any sort of relationship between actors and audience. In this production, soliloquies generally empty into the air, with actors’ eyes directed about two feet above the heads of the audience. A similar awkwardness occurs when the rude mechanicals put on their play within the play during the final Act. It’s a wonderful opportunity to play to the crowd, but here, the actors suspend animation when the court folk behind them make their commentaries.
Caleb Perkins as Puck steals every scene. He’s athletic; preening; impossibly balletic and ever in motion; pouting; posturing and flaming. His loquacity and undulation make Kevin Frances’ Oberon look and sound like a good-hearted farm boy.
Elizabeth Cooper as Titania and Kara Juarez Jones as Hippolyta are similar in appearance and mannerisms, probably by coincidence rather than by design.
Some deftly realized cameos: Traci Koesis as Snug the joiner (Lion, extempore, with roaring) is bright-eyed and adorable; Elexia Lowe as Cobweb has got some annoyed Vampirella in her, just the sharp tonic needed for that sugary fairy world.
This is an agreeable exercise in community theatre, the community encompassing some seasoned players, some naturals and some tyros. It so happens that the proprietors of this garage-like space, Off Center, are Austin's innovative, collegial band of artists aptly named “The Rude Mechanicals,” currently participating in the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky.
While the "Rudes" are away, the mechanicals will play—enjoying, exercising, and polishing their craft.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs February 26-26 and March 5-7, 2010 at the Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo St. Austin, TX 78702. Information can be found at http://www.chaotictheatre.com/.