World Stages: International Theatre Festival- ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at The Kennedy Center

The World Stages: International Theater Festival takes the center stage at The Kennedy Center, March 10-30, 2014 bringing together some of today’s most exciting theatrical visionaries presenting an unprecedented focus on theatre from around the globe. Twenty-two theatrical offerings from nineteen countries, and every continent except Antarctica, are represented in this theater Festival of dynamic stories examining contemporary issues and universal themes. Curated by Alicia Adams, Vice President, International Programming, thirteen fully staged productions will be featured including nine U.S. premieres, as well as four theater-focused installations, panel discussions, two staged readings, and two Directors forums.

The delights in this extraordinary assembling of theatrical treasures comprise World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014 – the Kennedy Center’s first theater-focused international festival!

  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Bottom’s Bottom – Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Demetrius (Kyle Lima), Helena (Naomi Cranston), Hermia (Akiya Henry), and Lysander (Alex Felton). Photo courtesy of Bristol Old Vic.
Demetrius (Kyle Lima), Helena (Naomi Cranston), Hermia (Akiya Henry), and Lysander (Alex Felton). Photo courtesy of The Bristol Old Vic.

Shakespeare has done quite well in theatre for 400 years.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream has always lent itself to wide variety of interpretations.Why not try the world of puppetry?

It’s not just lovers, foes, and fairies who are spellbound in the Bristol’s Old Vic’s irresistible A Midsummer Night’s Dream now playing in The Eisenhower Theater for The Kennedy’s Center’s World Stages: International Theatre Festival.Trees, objects, and tools all pulse and tingle with the possibility of existence thanks to the irrepressible magic of Handspring Puppet Company alongside a brilliant company of actors, all objects are granted the right to life.

Acclaimed collaborators, Tom Morris (Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic’s) and Adrian Kohler of South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, reunite for the first time since their internationally acclaimed War Horse for a new take on William Shakespeare’s play within the play, comedy of love triangles, fairies, and Bottom’s bottom.

Founded in 1981 and based in Cape Town, South Africa, Handspring Puppet Company has been presented in more than 30 countries around the world, and Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously-running Theatre in the UK.

Shakespeare may intimidate or be thought as stuffy to some.  But there is so much invention happening on the full stage that if you have never been to a Shakespeare play before, The Old Vic’s high concept, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a delightful introduction.  Still, it will help if you are somewhat familiar with the Shakespeare comedy.It takes the first act a little while to establish itself solidly with the storytelling and flow of the text together with the visuals and performances.

In a future primitive world the magic turns into an enchanted Athenian forest and the innovative production casts a brooding spell. Vicki Mortimer’s set design imagines the story taking place in what begins as a large workshop.Dressed as labors, the 12-member cast never fails to entertain and succeeds by injecting humor and creativity into the illuminations of their amplified characters and the mystical proceedings. (Scene Stealer Akiya Henry excels with her sparkling, vivacious interpretation of Hermia.)

In this version, the Bard’s players are sometimes humans and sometimes puppets, workshop tools, wooden blocks and other found inanimate objects come to life.  Wooden planks represent trees, classical masks, painted puppets and a giant hand.

This is a shape-shifting spirit world where reality is blurred.

Puck, is a dog-like puppet that takes a different form every time he appears, and is manipulated by three hard-working actors (who also speak his lines).His face is an old blowtorch, a wicker basket is the torso, then there is a a fork and saw for the arms, and wooden mallets as legs. 

Oberon, King of the Fairies, is represented by a classical mask and an oversize hand, which is an interesting puppet because it’s a moveable beast.

On Oberon (David Ricardo-Pearce) orders, by way of magic juice, Puck works some shine on the King’s estranged wife, and complicates matters among four Athenian lovers: Helena (Naomi Cranston), Demetrius (Kyle Lima), Hermia (Akiya Henry), and Lysander (Alex Felton).

The Queen of the Fairies, Titania (Saskia Portway) is bedazzled by a spell that makes her fall in love with the first creature she sees upon awakening, and as she praises “thy amiable cheeks,” the phrase takes on a hysterical, shocking new meaning.

Bottom, one of the rude mechanicals (Shakespeare’s craftsmen who want to put on a play), has never been so perfectly named.Miltos Yerolemou in a break out performance is turned into an ass with his exposed bottom up on a contraption on wheels, and his feet forming the ass’s ears covered with slippers.  Bottom’s transformation merges the double-entendre meaning of “ass,” with Yerolemou literally talking out of his.  (“The play is about transformation, and it is in the spirit of the show to be playful. It was a game for the audience worth having a go with,” said Director Tom Morris in a discussion after the play.)

It is a sight to behold. I’m not sure it works entirely, but it certainly got huge laughs from the audience. This very cheeky idea is not a quick flash gimmick, and I have to admit, I truly felt for the actor (Saskia Portway) for the spell Titania was under for having to touch, maneuver, and kiss.

Love isn’t always pretty, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream explores the joy, pain and ridiculousness of falling in love. This archetypal love story is the quintessential play about make-believe, and the ingenuity of this Bristol Old Vic production is all about your using imagination.

The cast of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Photo courtesy of The Bristol Old Vic.
The cast of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Photo courtesy of The Bristol Old Vic.

The connection between the fancied leap of faith in the language of the puppetry and the kind of leap of faith you make when you fall in love is very much present in this vibrant production.

A show phenomenon through visionary staging, a multi-talented ensemble, and the genius of the Handspring Puppet Company, the Bristol Old Vic’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the puppets come alive when the audience imagines them to life!

In English. Recommended for age 12 and up.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Performance Timing:  Act One – 68 minutes; Intermission – 20 minutes; and Act Two – 78 minutes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has one more performance tomorrow at 7:30pm in the Family Theater at The Kennedy Center  – 2700 F Street,  NW, in Washington, DC.  For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.  

The closest metro station is Foggy Bottom/George Washington Univ. There is a FREE Kennedy Center Shuttle that departs from the metro station every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m.-Midnight Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-Midnight Saturdays, and noon-Midnight Sundays.


Read Sydney-Chanele Dawkins’ other reviews here of shows in the World Stages: International Theater Festival:

The Suit. 
Tapioca Inn: Incendios.
Death & the Maiden (La Muerte y La Doncella). 
Savannah Bay.

World Stages Festival YouTube channel.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [email protected] [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


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