Old Will Shakespeare was onto something when he said, “the play’s the thing.” At the Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s stage at the Lagoon area in Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, director Nancy Cates and company keep things to a minimum during current performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — much as plays would have been produced during the Bard’s day.
Over the past 11 years, the Festival has trained core company members in acting styles most likely used by Shakespeare’s own players. They also use Elizabethan-style “special effects,” like a hand spun wind machine, live musicians and trap door escapes. And, like Shakespeare’s players, they perform in an open-air environment, relying heavily on natural lighting.
This year a permanent stage is getting finishing touches. It is being built appropriate to the times.
Players use what I’ll call a plain stage — mostly bare, affording multiple entrances, use of space underneath and the like — which makes for the flexibility needed to put on the Bard’s works.
Things are kept plain and simple. If you need a forest, paint one through poetic dialogue, as Shakespeare did, down to the detail of a bunch of cowslip flowers and the merry sounds of birds. You want a pillow? Have another actor lie down facing away from the audience and act the part. The audience will get it.
And it does when watching the Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s wonderful, clever and delightful current production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Like perhaps all his plays, ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is about love — young love, first love, love at first sight, doting to the point of driving someone mad with unwanted attention, true love and the like. Young lovers (Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena) go off into the forest to woo and chase after one another.
Woodland fairies (in the form of Oberon, the fairy king, and his Titania) cavort and, in a plentitude of mischief, wreak emotional havoc on the young lovers through the cunning imp, Puck, who casts spells on several characters which result in them falling for the wrong person.
All ends well by morning when the king and queen (Theseus and Hippolyta) show up to resolve matters legally in the light of day. Weddings happen and the low characters (Bottom, Starveling, Flute, Snout and Peter Quince) arrive to put on a play-within-a-play about love that they have been rehearsing.
Laughs abound, and all the actors are superb in the craft of comedy for this production. Characters are drawn vividly and with great care and quality. Hooray for OSF.
Two of them (Tess Burgler as Helena and Ernie Gonzalezas Nick Bottom) outdo themselves, however. It isn’t simply them acting the characters well and witnessing that, but seeing them bring them fully to life and enliven our understanding of their complex (and wryly humorous) humanity.
Watch the Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Lagoon, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, Akron; 330-673-8761; www.ohioshakespeare.com. The play runs Thursday-Sunday at 8 p.m. through July 22. Admission is $25.