By Brianna Lau
See the greatest show with Britches and Hose Theatre Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream! Magic and mayhem run rampant in this William Shakespeare comedy, and the setting of Dust Bowl America makes the glittering, shimmering fairies only more extreme and mischievous against an already enticing cast of Athenians.
A hint of music and magic sets the show in motion as Moth (Sarah Schettini) plays a sweet ukulele number before leaving us in the audience chamber of the bombastic Duke Theseus (Geoff Baskir) and his well-meaning but slightly embarrassed fiancée Hippolyta (Arielle Seidman-Joria). The mood is light and jovial as they and their fellow Athenians look forward to the upcoming wedding. Egeus (Daniel Rinehart) shatters the contentment by snarling death threats at his equally feisty daughter Hermia for disobeying him and courting the less agreeable Lysander over Demetrius, his preferred match for his daughter. This setup leads directly (if unexpectedly) to a raucous and amusing evening of mistaken love, terrible lullabies, and light-footed dancing.
Haley Claffy brings feisty spunk to the role of Hermia, flipping deftly from coy and flirtatious to casting insults and threatening violence. Hermia fits nicely with Jeff Elmore’s country boy Lysander. Elmore’s sweet Lysander endears himself to the audience with his proposal to Hermia and his affections, making his later love potion-induced declarations of adoration to Hermia’s best friend Helena not only ridiculous but surprisingly tender for the situation. Elmore particularly shone in physical comedy alongside his rival in love, Demetrius (played by Dan Clark). The two flung themselves into increasingly preposterous and impressive stunts and altercations to prove their undying, drugged love for Helena. Rounding out the lovers was Anastasia Brunk’s upbeat-despite-her-hardships Helena, who in this production gets hit with a whiff from the love-inducing flower to send her on her own journey of ridiculous declarations to Demetrius.
The lovers’ iconic quarrel is a highlight of the show, with the fairy king Oberon and his untrusty lieutenant Puck watching from the sidelines and sometimes manipulating the lovers to work them up into a tizzy. Every member takes turns at the forefront of the action, never letting up on the zaniness until they leave the stage. Oberon and Puck (played by Spencer Pilcher and Richard Chancellor, respectively) are a dynamic duo on stage, with Chancellor’s non-stop hobo clown act and Pilcher’s booming carnival bark and commanding presence. They connect the fairy world to the human world, constantly interfering with and entertained by the troubled humans.
Director Leandra Lynn’s vision for the fairies allows the traditionally elevated and ethereal characters to be just as bizarre as the humans. Oberon and Titania (Megan Fraedrich) lead a band of carnival workers and sideshow attractions, from tumblers to strongmen, in the most eclectic ensemble of the play. Fraedrich’s Titania was a standout, radiating not just the magic of fairy kind but also an almost corporate savvy that made her and her husband feel powerful in the mortal realm as well as the supernatural, while Chancellor’s Puck adopted more exaggerated facial expressions and ease of movement, standing out even when the character did his best to blend in and slink away from the powerful Oberon.
This play’s greatest strength was its ensemble work. The lovers fell in and out of love with ease. The fairies tumbled around and gave by far the worst attempt at a peaceful lullaby, endearing themselves through the cacophony of off-pitch yelling and instrument bashing. The third major ensemble was not to be outdone.
A group of amateur actors gather in the forest where both the lovers and the fairies happened to be converging. Led by the teacher-like long-suffering patience of Michael Angeloni’s Peter Quince, the group of mechanicals boasts very enthusiastic (if not great) performers—played with panache by their real-life actors. Will McLeod’s Bottom (a pompous actor whose head Puck famously transforms into a donkey’s) threw himself into the loud and outrageous nature of the character, supporting his fellow mechanicals and slowly stealing away Quince’s precious directorial power in their rehearsals. The troupe’s beloved play within a play at the end does not disappoint, featuring alternately moving and over-acted scenes.
Brittney Stane’s colorful costumes brought the characters to life, from the buttoned-up sophistication of court to the Bohemian enticement of the big top and the working men and women of the troupe hopeful for an opportunity. Leandra Lynn’s makeup complemented the costumes, heightening Athens with bold red lips and immaculate updos that grew increasingly messy in the woods. Two properties stand out in this production: the impressive Foley equipment that accompanies the mechanicals (Foley artist, Michael Angeloni; Foley designer, Dave Seidman-Joria) and the “script” for the mechanical playing the lion (Connie Ramsey), who after being told that her part is only roaring returns with a picture book about lions as she very seriously practices her part with the utmost dedication.
Britches and Hose Theatre Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not afraid to get silly or loud or serious or physical. The audience is immediately invited to dream with them, to hope and try with them, and yes, to run away with the circus.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by Britches and Hose Theatre Company, plays Friday, September 27, and Saturday, September 28, 2019, at 8 pm with a matinée performance at 3 pm on Saturday at The Vine Church, 2929 Graham Road, Falls Church, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $15, or $10 for students, seniors, and military personnel with ID.