A Night of Comedic Whimsy

The weather has been getting colder, the days bleaker, and perhaps we all need a little bit of comedic whimsy in our lives. Cue the epitome of comedic whimsy: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The classic Shakespearean comedy, under the direction of Lindsay Reading Korth, opened November 17 as the second show in Nazareth College’s Theatre and Dance Department’s production season.

As one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, tells of the events occurring around the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, all the while intertwining multiple plot lines between Athenian lovers, fairies, mischievous sprites, and an ameatur acting troupe.

Scene 1 of Nazareth College's Production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream;" Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens Jr Photography // GFMedia Entertainment
Scene 1 of Nazareth College’s Production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream;” Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens Jr Photography // GFMedia Entertainment

The play opens with a stage doused in red lighting, illuminating the black silhouettes of the actors, Theseus (Joshua Feldman ‘17) and Hippolyta (Erin Izzy Griffin ‘18), who engage in a gracefully choreographed fight scene.  These visually stunning spectacles will continue to dazzle throughout the entirety of the play, thanks to both the striking lighting design by Emily Stork and the set design by Allen Wright Shannon. The set consists of various platforms all of differing heights, with large sweeping tree branches curving up high above the stage, creating a true onstage fairy land.

In a note from the director inside the program, Korth writes that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play of balance, and a large part of this particular production focused on the balance of gender identity. True to her word, many of the traditionally male leads were cast in gender-bent roles (though, traditionally, Shakespearean plays were always genderbent, as women did not begin appearing onstage until the 17th century, and all female roles were played by teenage boys). Casting women in male roles was an artistic choice that worked well for this production, and was very appropriate given the current conversation surrounding gender identity in our society.

In true Shakespearean fashion, the actors are not miked, and though it is a difficult feat to fill a 1,000 seat theatre with just your voice, the actors do an admirable job. When performing Shakespeare, inflections are key, lest the lines come off as recitations, as opposed to progressing the story.  The actors were very competent in their execution of the distinct, Shakespearean jargon, though at times it did feel like the actors were reciting lines, which hurt some of the pacing in Act I.

The play is well cast, and despite the awkward pacing in Act I, each actor brings a great energy to their respective roles. Sophomore, BFA acting major, Brook Mordenga plays the rascally Puck, Oberon’s obedient servant, and the catalyst for many problems throughout the course of the play. Mordenga’s quirky, and at times awkward, energy bode well in her portrayal of the trouble-making sprite. In terms of comedic performances, Clare Ganem (BFA musical theatre ‘17) is easily the standout of the play with her portrayal of Bottom, an overly enthusiastic actor, who has the misfortune of being transformed into a donkey during Act I. Ganem’s comedic timing and melodramatic performance incite uproarious laughter from the audience throughout the course of the play, especially during Bottom’s exaggerated “death scene” at the end of Act II.

The actors cast as the Athenian lovers (Janna Kozloski as Hermia, Chris Peterkin as Demetrius, Abby Voss as Helena, and Jeremy Saunders as Lysander) all do a commendable job in their portrayal of their respectable characters. It is worth pointing out that Saunders, a junior physical therapy major easily holds his own onstage opposite a cast of BFAs. The four actors truly shine near the end of Act I, in their comedic fight scene, as the love-struck Lysander and Demetrius attempt to protect Helena from the feisty Hermia. It is during this scene, that Hermia delivers the famous line, “Though she be but little, she is fierce,” in response to Helena’s spirited energy – an energy that Kozloski fully epitomizes.

Other notable performances are given by senior, Alexa Maxam as Oberon, king of the fairies, and junior, Katja Stavenhagen as Titania, queen of the fairies.  Stavenhagen delicately floats across the stage, and truly embodies Titania’s soft, fairy persona.  In fact, both Maxam and Stavenhagen genuinely help to strengthen the magical fairy realm created onstage.

Nazareth College’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a whimsical and classic interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous work, and as the gloominess of winter begins to set in, this production may just be the very remedy needed to lift our spirits.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run through November 20 in Callahan Theater. Friday and Saturday performances are presented at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee will be presented at 2:30 p.m. Tickets start at $13 and are free to Nazareth College students with a Naz ID.

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