“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” one of the most famous Shakespearean comedies, is at once a simple and an impossible play to put on. As a play that has been done so often, directors often fall victim to attempts to reinvent the classic text in some new and exciting way that ultimately falls flat. The recent BareStage Productions rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not such a production. Instead, director Benjamin Arsenault treated the content with a close eye and sensitivity that allowed the production to be at once true to the original text and a slight, but effective, modernization.
Jack Rubenacker excelled as both Oberon and Theseus, playing up the humor of the dual role at every opportunity. Rubenacker was a standout for the complete control with which he executed his lines, communicating both meaning and emotion seemingly without strain. As the hotheaded Oberon, he executed some of the most hilarious bits of the play’s most famous comedy, using his volume and physicality to bring out bits of laughter that might otherwise fall silent.
Another standout from the performance, with a cast that was undeniably impressive, was Sofie Herbeck. As Lysander, Herbeck commanded attention in all of her scenes, showcasing the commitment to emotion that Lysander’s character requires.
As mentioned before, however, the cast members all seemed on top of their game, with Arsenault at the helm as director. The dialogue was fast-paced and seemed natural, with appropriate inflections. To break up some of the more complex elements of the verse, the actors often inserted small comedic interjections in Modern English.
The show shone especially brightly during the scenes with Titania (Vera Belaia) and her fairies. During the famed Titania’s verses, the fairies swarmed around, acting out the verses in the green fog. The constant movement of the fairies gave these moments an especially magical quality that was only amplified by the mise-en-scène of the piece.
The sound design by William Mullen thrived in subtlety. With very little music, the production instead employed soft cricket and bird noises throughout to simulate a forest atmosphere. Despite the minimal set, the pieces that were used were done impeccably — the thick tree bark clouded with green lighting, which was set onto heavy fog. For the many soliloquies of Puck (Teddy Lake), the actress was given the power to control time through a simple brightening of the stage and a warped sound effect to simulate a freeze-frame.
During the second act of the production, the conflict was resolved fairly early on, and the audience was subsequently treated to a play within a play in the form of the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. The play within the play, however, dragged terribly, which was addressed by the characters in the show, but it still stood in stark contrast to the fast-paced ease of the rest of the play. During this section, the actors hit their comedic stride without a doubt, but ultimately the funny became the enemy of the good, as laughs were exchanged for substance during the excruciatingly long second act.
Despite this, the production still succeeded as a complete piece. With the sparse set and thoughtful lighting and sound, viewers were immersed in the scenery. Any Shakespeare play can only succeed when all the pieces are working together flawlessly to give the production an ease that it often lacks. In this way, BareStage’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a magical triumph.