Playing out beneath the spring night stars, this show was magical. NextStop Theatre‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Christopher Michael Richardson, was a lightning-paced crowd-pleaser, full of laughs, merriment, and cheer.
This particular NextStop production was the inaugural Theater in the Park presentation by Reston Community Center and Reston Town Center Association.
The play featured four couples, in various states of love and discord: Hermia and Lysander; Helena and Demetrius; Oberon and Titania; and the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
As Theseus, Duke of Athens prepared to marry Hippolyta, an old man, Egeus, came to court and complained that his daughter Hermia had fallen in love with Lysander. The Duke then ordered Hermia to obey her father and marry another man, Demetrius, under penalty of death. Hermia and Lysander escaped to the country woods, with Helena, Hermia’s friend, and Demetrius in pursuit. As was his custom, Shakespeare added a few more mirrored, subplots — and mistaken identities — on top of all this.
Shakespeare reportedly based A Midsummer Night’s Dream on The Menaechmus Twins by the Roman playwright Plautus. It’s the story of two twin brothers, Menaechmus and Sosicles, who are separated at age seven and spend years before they are reunited. He also wrote the tragedy Romeo and Juliet about the same time as Dream.
But because A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy, the lovers fare better against the obstacles to their love. Unlike the doomed Romeo and Juliet, these characters, with a little help from magic, somehow make concord out of chaos.
There are many serious themes in this comedy: Fathers seeking control over daughters (Shakespeare had two daughters); men controlling women; city vs. country values, and same-sex friendships vs. heterosexual love.
This show must have a good Bottom, Nick Bottom that is. Representing the so-called bottom of society, Bottom was an actor in a play-within-the-play, Pyramus and Thisbe, who figuratively and later literally (due to magic) became an ass. More shades of Romeo and Juliet here: Pyramus and Thisbe were two lovers from the city of Babylon who occupied connected houses.
Michael Burgos’s performance as Bottom was explosively good. This actor, also a prolific children’s play author, played the notes of the character to perfection. His physical comedy and comic timing electrified the crowd.
Dr. Devin Nikki Thomas, a new adjunct professor at Bowie State University, was brash and authoritative in her regal roles of Theseus and Oberon. Director Richardson made an interesting choice to play up Shakespeare’s same-sex themes: He had the excellent and lovely Nicole Ruthmarie play Hippolyta and Titania, the latter being the fairy queen of fairy king Oberon, thus both regal couples were female/female.
Stephen Kime brought verve to his dual roles of Demetrius and the commoner Starveling. Kellan Oelkers had convincing interactions with Dion Denisse Peñaflor, in her outstanding NextStop debut as Hermia. Oelkers also played the funniest wall (in the play-within-the-play) I’ve seen.
Close to Burgos in sheer vigor and stage presence was Isabella Lash as Helena. Lash, in her NextStop debut, had many electric scenes with Kime and Oelkers.
NextStop veteran Carolyn Kashner’s Puck was fun to watch. She even got to perform a rap song. Charli Simone’s Peter Quince, a hapless director-within-the-play, played her character neither too farcical nor too understated.
I was confused about the costume design scheme of the show. Many of the male characters were dressed as if at an affluent beach party — Hawaiian shirts and khakis for instance. But the fairies and regal characters were dressed in resplendent purple outfits, including Thomas’s arched-shoulder dress. Burgos got to wear a translucent, purple Donkey head. Costume Designer Alexa Duimstra did a great job there. Richardson made another interesting choice to have Oberon/Titania (Thomas/Ruthmarie) change costumes on stage into Theseus/Hippolyta.
The sound design included a lot of background and mood music to keep the energy flowing through the show. Justin Schmitz did the show a great service with that design.
Sarah Beth Hall’s scenic design consisted of a white tent and a concrete park structure dressed with green leaves that evoked a forest. Hall succeeded in dressing a park in the middle of a commercial zone.
This show will leave you with a sense of magic and wonder. Bottom’s titular dream was called so because it had no bottom. There is no bottom to the fun you’ll have at this show.
Running Time: About 80 minutes with no intermission.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Saturday, April 30, and Sunday, May 1, 2022, at 7 pm presented by Theater in the Park produced by NextStop Theatre performing in the amphitheater at Reston Town Square Park, 11900 Market Street, Reston, VA. The performance is a free-for-all event. Bring a chair and refreshments.
COVID Safety: “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.” The performance is outside. (NextStop’s indoor COVID Patron Safety Policies are here.)