Review: Alley’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”

This famous line from William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is an apt description of the current production playing at the Alley Theatre through November 5th. This production, while making the most use of the Alley’s renovated Hubbard Stage of any show so far, manages to maintains an intimacy that serves the piece well.

The story focuses on four lovers and a troupe of actors caught in a battle between the King & Queen of the fairies. While the actors in the play within a play create their art, the lovers are put through their paces when Puck, an apprentice of Oberon the fairy King, creates one of the most famous cases of mistaken identity in all of literature. Will the lovers be reunited with their correct partner? What will the acting troupe create? How will the battle of the fairies end — and exactly what is Puck?

Director Gregory Boyd has set this “Dream” in several time periods, each bringing a unique angle to the text of the scenes. Some scenes are set in what appears to be contemporary time, while others reflect the ancient Greeks or the Victorian era. The show is huge and intimate at the same time, using quite literally all of the Alley’s new expanded main stage for the larger, more vibrant scenes while scaling things back and putting one or two actors in almost complete darkness at other times. This framing works very well and the fact that you can see the lighting, scenery rails and other usually hidden theatrical devices keeps the fact that this is Shakespeare’s love letter to the theatre in the front of the mind throughout.

The cast is excellent from top to bottom. John Feltch makes an excellent Oberon, while Chris Hutchison, his real-life wife Elizabeth Bunch, Melissa Pritchett and Michael Brusasaco are hilarious as the four lovers Lysander, Hermia, Helena and Demetrius, respectively. Jay Sullivan puts an interesting spin on Puck, showing his struggles as he tries to avoid his mischievous nature and repair the mayhem he has created.

One of the real treats of this production is to see Alley Resident Company Members James Black, Jeffrey Bean, Paul Hope, David Rainey, John Tyson & Todd Waite playing the acting troupe. These performers have spent countless hours together in various Alley productions over the years and to see them play “themselves” in a way is at the same time hilarious and touching for long-time subscribers.

While Shakespeare may be intimidating for some theatergoers, I highly recommend this production. The story is easy to follow even if the language is sometimes not and the quality is of the level you would expect from the best Broadway has to offer. The Alley often delivers high-quality plays but this one is exceptional and should not be missed.

This production is part of Shakespeare@400, honoring the 400 years since the Bard’s death. I recommend visiting the Alley’s Facebook page to watch monologues from members of the resident acting company as they recite some of the most famous soliloquies, sonnets and writing in the English language.

****1/2 out of *****
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gregory Boyd
Alley Theatre
Now through November 5th
Tickets: www.alleytheatre.org
Photo: John Feltch as Oberon and Jay Sullivan as Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Alley Theatre

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