August 13, 2008

Talented Young Cast Performs ‘Midsummer’ Like a Dream

By Colin Dabkowski

A sublime sense of mischief, mystery and foreboding was on display Saturday night during the Chautauqua Theater Company's pitch- perfect production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The crashing thunder outside the Chautauqua Institution's Bratton Theater only heightened the otherworldly spell cast by Shakespeare's language, delivered with crisp comic clarity by a company made up entirely of the CTC's young conservatory members.

And when the storm outside momentarily brought down the stage lights in the middle of a soliloquy from Elizabeth Larson (as Helena), she did what any veteran actor would do. After giving a wisely quizzical look for about a millisecond (just long enough to make the audience erupt in laughter), she launched undeterred into the rest of her speech: "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind / And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind."

And off the show went, from Athenian castle to magical wood, from high-spirited brawl to play-within-a-play slapstick, all imbued with the sort of supernatural notions only Shakespeare could dream up.

The show, one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, follows a group of young lovers (and haters, so to speak) from a castle in Athens to a forest nearby, where all manner of odd and magical creatures lurk.

The young Hermia (the frenetic Amelia Pedlow) and Lysander (Ben Buckley) are deeply in love. But Hermia is also unfortunately the apple of young Demetrius' eye. Helena, unluckiest of all, is deeply in love with Demetrius, who does not return her affections.

But the forest has a way of mixing all that up, and it does so in a series of unlikely and hilarious events. Shakespeare has also tossed in a band of inexperienced players to liven things up, and their own exploits in the woods near Athens provide many of the play's laugh-out-loud moments.

Director Alec Wild has imbued his production with a kind of magical physical comedy and campy execution that brings the disparate characters of Shakespeare's comedy into perfect modern focus. His prancing woodland creatures, all arrayed brilliantly in Alixandra Gage Englund's whimsical costumes, contort and control one another through increasingly creative hand gestures.

In a talented young cast, Larson, as Helena, is the standout. Her campy delivery and perfectly exaggerated gestures fit perfectly into Wild's modernistic vision for the play. Performances from Patrick David Cullen as the bumbling Nick Bottom, Zach Appelman as his fellow player Flute and the reticent fairy Moth are also notable for rising slightly above the sky-high level of performance sustained throughout this excellent show.

The set design, by Lee Savage, takes on subtle Asian overtones to create an enchanting magical moonscape and clean, emerald-colored drawing room.

In the words of Puck, Shakespeare's devious woodland sprite, played in this instance by the comically and physically gifted Frankie J. Alvarez, I've seldom heard "so musical a discord, such sweet thunder" as in CTC's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

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>Theater Review

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"Presented by Chautauqua Theater Company through Saturday at Chautauqua Institution. For more information, call 357-6250 or visit

Originally published by NEWS STAFF REVIEWER.

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