REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and director Brian Isaac Phillips have pulled out all the stops on their debut production in the Otto M. Budig Theatre located just south of Washington Park at the corner of Race and 12th streets.  Easily Shakspeare’s most accessible play to non-Elizabethan speaking audiences, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is the perfect choice to inaugurate the new space.

A quick recap for those unfamiliar: there are three “sections,” of the story.  There are four young lovers trying to navigate crushes and arranged marriages.  There is a group of actors, working on a brand new play.  And there are a group of magical forest creatures.  All of their lives intersect at some point throughout the production with comedic results.

I was at “media night,” which was an invited guest only event.  Fans of Cincy Shakes’ brand of Shakespeare in their old Race street space are sure to love this production.  It’s full of all the things they’re known for: ridiculous comedy, talented actors, and unique takes and themes on the old classics.  But with the new space they are able to do something they weren’t before; this is a spectacle.

Because of the three distinct groups of characters, there are three unique costume styles.  From glam rock to 70s chic to traditional Athenian garb, there’s no confusing who belongs in which part of the play.  The lighting is well done and effective to set the sometimes spooky and sometimes kooky tones found throughout.

Visually interesting on the thrust stage, it is a fully immersive experience.  Actors come at you from all directions, quite literally.  The new sound system is dynamic and used best for the most effective curtain speech about cell phones I’ve seen in a while.  And thankfully, the seats are wide and comfortable; given the long run times of many of the plays produced here this is necessary and much appreciated.

Performance-wise, Caitlyn McWethy is a treasure as “Helena.”   She and Courtney Lucien (“Hermia”) get the most deserved laughs of the show in their interactions with “Lysander” (Crystian Wiltshire) and “Demetrius” (Kyle Brumley). The way the Bard’s words drip out of her mouth is poetic, while sounding completely natural and timely.  She gets it and is always a delight to watch.  Kelly Mengelkoch is hilarious yet sincere as “Quince,” as she tries to get her play off the ground while working with the over-the-top Matthew Lewis Johnson (“Nick Bottom”) and the other group of actors (Jeremy Dubin – who gave. very informative pre-show lecture about the design and production elements), Paul Riopelle, Justin McCombs, and Billy Chace.)  The star of this group though is the well-behaved dog that accompanies McCombs on stage.  Also notable is the always outstanding Giles Davies (“Oberon”), the superb Barry Mulholland (“Edges”), the stunning Miranda McGee (“Titania”), and the pluckish-“Puck”, Sara Clark.

There are a handful of issues; some of the comedy goes on long after the joke has been delivered.  Also, are characters who stutter still humorous in 2017? At least McComb’s characterization is honest and empathetic. Even with these quibbles, the direction is mostly crisp, the scene transitions sharp, and the production mostly held my interest throughout the almost three hour runtime.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is sure to be a hit for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.  Many will go to see the first play in the new space; many more will leave impressed with just how well they put it to use.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM runs through September 30th.  Tickets and more information can be found here.