Rude Mechanicals’ ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’ glows at Greenbelt Arts Center

The Rudes have thrown 'Midsummer Night's Dream' ingredients into the pot and produced some truly delicious results.

How would Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream unfold if the fairies were in charge? Like, really in charge? The Rude Mechanicals strive to answer that question with Ill Met by Moonlight, a movement-based interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most dynamic works. The Rudes embrace the darker aspects (literally) of Midsummer with Ill Met, slashing the script in half and repositioning some key plot points. This would usually be pretty risky — Shakespeare’s plays are heavily plot-driven; relationship builds on relationship until the explosion lurking on the periphery finally shows its face. However, Midsummer is uniquely fractured. We have the fairies, the mechanicals, and the humans. Each group exists in its own world, and only the human, Bottom, truly crosses over. The Rudes decided to throw all the ingredients into the pot and with Ill Met by Moonlight have produced some truly delicious results.

Aparna Sri (Titania) and Claudia Bach (Oberon) in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Photo by Rachel Duda.

One of the most striking elements was the set, designed by Erin Nealer. Ill Met is staged in the Greenbelt Arts Center, which is home to a lovely black box. The set is unassuming at first, incredibly barebones with only a black background to give us any hint of scenery. As the play progresses, however, we start to see hints of color. Fairy Queen Titania (Aparna Sri) and Oberon, her king (Claudia Bach), step through the black background onto the stage as if they have been transported directly from the fairy world to the human world. Each actor bursts through a door on either end of the stage, which Puck (Wes Dennis) conjures into existence by way of a chalk drawing.

Dennis draws a swooping line from top to bottom for each door, which creates the effect of ripping apart the space-time continuum and effectively sets the otherworldly tone for the rest of the play. We briefly see the inside each of the doors, which teases us with a kaleidoscope of color and frothy fabric until they slam shut and we are once again in the human world. Nealer and director Joshua Engel have collaborated beautifully, and Engel’s dark-versus-light concept comes through strongly in all technical aspects. My only criticism: give us more! As an audience, we wanted to be fully immersed in Engel’s world and there wasn’t quite enough color sprinkled throughout the set to make us fully enamored of fairyland.

TOP LEFT: Wes Dennis (Puck) and Peri Walker (Hermia) ) in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Photo by Constantia Rioux. TOP RIGHT: Wes Dennis (Puck) and various fairies in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Photo by Rachel Duda. BOTTOM LEFT: Richard Atha-Nicholls and Peter Eichman in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Photo by Rachel Duda. BOTTOM RIGHT: Richard Atha-Nicholls and Peter Eichman in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Photo by Rachel Duda.

There were several strong performances in Ill Met, most of which came from the mechanicals themselves. As an ensemble, their repartee worked well and the scene in which we were introduced to each mechanical was one of the strongest in the play. The chemistry was there, and each actor knew exactly who they were and what they wanted. This scene was a testament to how important it is to give actors business onstage. It’s impossible to stand purposefully still and mug for the entirety of a scene, and Engel clearly had some juicy discussions with Peter Quince (Peter Eichman) and co. about what each actor could be doing as Nick Bottom (Kate Medwar-Vanderlinden) perpetually peacocks. Medwar-Vanderlinden was both charming and insufferable, and her firm grasp of the language shone through as she acted her way through a donkey mask that covered her entire face (no mean feat). Her Nick Bottom was perfectly ridiculous. The Rude Mechanicals put together an illuminating production, and many moments worked exceedingly well. If their tech is slightly tweaked and scenes are tightened up, Ill Met by Moonlight will shine even brighter.

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Ill Met by Moonlight plays through September 9, 2023, presented by the Rude Mechanicals performing at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. To purchase tickets ($24, general admission; $22, senior/military; $12, child/student), call (301) 317-7964 or go online.

COVID Safety: Masks are optional, except masks are required at the September 3 matinee.


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