Monday, December 7, 2015

A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“Course of True Love…”

This Shakespearean Fantasy at PAC is directed by Elizabeth Rothan and is playing at their space, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through December 20th.  For more information, go to their site at www.actorsconservatory.com or call 503-274-1717.

There have been a number of adaptations of this play, both on stage and in film, over the years.  An early MGM film from the 30’s had a lavish production with James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck.  Some good moments in this but too “Hollywoodish” to be taken seriously.  A more recent film had Kevin Kline as Bottom and had the best interpretation of the Pyramus & Thisby death scene, as they played it seriously and it worked beautifully.  Also, Woody Allen had a rather quirky but good modernization of it with A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (and, after all, isn’t that what it’s really all about?)

In this case the story takes place in Alaska during the mid-1800’s.  Midsummer in Alaska, you might say?!  But it is the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” after all.  And the transition at the end from Winter’s chill to the warmth of Spring works very well to enhance the theme of the play.  The story is on three levels:  The lowly tradesmen who offer to entertain the Duke at his wedding; the Duke and his upper-class noblemen and women; and the wild card, the Fairies, laughing at and playing tricks on these foolish mortals.

The story, in short, is the mixing of oil and water and the ensuing results.  It takes place in and around the nuptial eve of the local royalty, Theseus (John Corr) and Hippolyta (Paige Rogers).  They have invited to their celebration, among others, prominent young men, Lysander (Jacob Camp) and Demetrius (Seth Witucki), and his mother, Egeus (Ahna Dunn-Wilder).  But, as so happens, both men are in love with the same woman, Hermia (Samie Pfeifer).  This leaves her friend, Helena (Tara Paulson-Spires), as the odd wo-man out, who also happens to have the hots for Demetrius.

The local Fairies, consisting of the King, Oberon (Corr, again) and Titania (Rogers, again) and the King’s main man, the merry prankster himself, Robin Goodfellow, or Puck (Hannah Quigg), delight in causing even more confusion to these silly simpletons.  But, they are not beyond problems themselves, as the Queen has taken a Changeling Boy (Alexander Casteele-Hart) under her wing and is all but ignoring the King.  But with a little magical love potion and some misdirection from Puck, the forest becomes a kaleidoscope of misadventures for all.

To further confuse the plot, some local tradesmen, the “rude mechanicals,” are attempting to entertain the royal court with a “tragical-comedy.”  Bottom (Robert Bell), Flute (Danny Diess), Snout (Quigg, again), Snug (Alexandria Castelle) and their leader, Peter Quince (Dunn-Wilder, again) are making a mess of the play, to say the least, and Bottom becomes a real ass.  There are some very funny moments with their antics, especially with the quiet Snout (looking a lot like Animal from The Muppets) playing a petulant Wall; a nervous Snug trying her best to be ferocious as a Lion without scaring the folks; the dinky dog (Casteele-Hart) upstaging everyone with his piping barks; and business-like, Quince, trying to be professional but slowly losing her cool.  Can’t reveal more as it would ruin the fun.

Rothan (also quite impressive as an actor in Profile’s, Orlando) has done an amazing job of staging everything in such a small area and it works wonderfully.  Tim Stapleton’s set is so authentic-looking, you could feel the cold.  And Jessica Bobillot’s costumes are a work of art.  The quick changes looking effortless onstage (but, I’m sure, chaotic backstage).  I felt I might have been watching the Winter scenes from Dr. Zhivago.  I’ve always been impressed with what this company can do with an essentially “black box” set and make it come alive with whatever period or setting you choose.

And the actors are quite impressive, too.  All of them, except the lovers, playing up to four other characters and making them all so unique that you thought you might be seeing a much larger cast.  Quigg, doing double duty as the flighty, animated Puck, and then as the much more subdued Snout, was a joy to watch.  She delivered the final speech in the show, simply, with a quiet sensitivity, which was exactly right.  The lovers were very energetic and Paulson-Spires stood out as the misfit of the group.  Corr and Rogers did well playing the elites from both worlds.  And Casteele-Hart is delightful in his dual roles.

But, I often pick a “diamond in the rough” from a show, someone who I feel has some unique talents that are worth watching in the future.  In this production it is Ahna Dunn-Wilder as the feisty Russian mother of Demetrius and then as the matter-of-fact, Quince (one of Dr. Bower’s, founder of OSF, favorite roles).  I actually had to look at my program to discover it was, in fact, the same actor playing both roles and totally convincing in both, too.  Now, that’s acting!  I look forward to seeing more of her onstage.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.  A word of warning, though, the theatre is located in a neighborhood with apartments and houses and has no parking lot, so plan your time accordingly.