Cincinnati Shakespeare Company delivered a magical season opener in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that showcased their accomplished resident ensemble and evoked their own personal transformation with the fantastic new Otto M. Budig Theater on Elm Street. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” wastes no time reminding us of Shakespeare’s timeless intuitiveness as fairies and humans alike navigate the tumultuous and hilarious journey that is love. In a production that couples magical performances with hi-tech effects, CSC creates an experience that leaves the audience wondering if they are in Neverland or “Rock of Ages,” but ultimately decide that it is the best kind of rocking mayhem and hilarity.
Let’s start with the new Otto M. Budig Theater. The location is excellent, nestled next to Memorial Hall and Washington Park in an area where people of all walks of life congregate (similar to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater). The design is artistically stunning and takes you on a journey from the hanging fairy lights in the lobby to traversing the geometric staircase to enjoying the quotes that are embedded throughout (including the restroom sinks!). The theater itself is both intimate and comfortable, enabling the audience to truly be a part of the experience. In fact, the theater design is such that you literally make eye contact with the ensemble, making it personal and powerful. NOTE: As you will of course attend multiple CSC shows after reading this review, consider sitting in different locations as each seat provides a unique point of view.
Before we talk about the show, I’ll let you know that my companion for the evening was my well-read ten year old who could not have been more excited to see this particular show. For those of you with tweens (and very likely teens, I’m guessing), you are never quite sure what they will or will not enjoy. While I did have some mild concerns that the Shakespearean language might make it difficult to engage, the show more than delivered on a fantastic evening that solidified her love of theater, respect for Shakespeare, and utter delight at the humor and occasional pop culture reference. While the show appropriately indulges in innuendo, your tween may or may not pick up on it and will undoubtedly see it all as good fun. She loved every minute of it, laughing so hard she cried, while also appreciating the not-so-subtle notes of girl power that were fabulously depicted by Hippolyta (Maggie Lou Rader), Hermia (Courtney Lucien) and Helena (Caitlin McWethy).
Speaking of girl power, Helena was played flawlessly by Caitlin McWethy, whose strong vocal articulation “riddled prettily” and whose physical humor made this delightful love quadrangle come to life with lines like “Do me mischief.” By far one of the best scenes was when the four lovers come together as a result of the initial fairy spell and go after one another with all the fierce rage that only love can generate. Hermia, played by Courtney Lucien, literally wins the crowd with her ferocious gladiator performance that takes the show to a new level and reminds you that “though she be but little, she is fierce.”
That said, Associate Artistic Director Sara Clark as Puck is the one who really stole my daughter’s heart. Her acrobatic depiction of the mischievous fairy who guides us through the magical mayhem coupled with her absolutely fabulous costume and makeup (reminiscent of current tween favorite Disney Descendants) hits the mark. And for those of you who are up to speed on Legally Blonde, Tatania the Fairy Queen (Miranda McGee) throws in a fabulous ‘Bend and Snap’ as she works to win the love of Bottom. The amazing performances of the women would not have been possible without their equally talented male counterparts Lysander (Crystian Wiltshire) and Demtrius (Kyle Brumley). Giles Davis as Oberon, makes you believe he is The Fairy King of the Shadows with his emotive facial expressions and excellent costume and makeup.
I would be remiss if I did not share the pure hilarity that is the performance of the “thespian company,” anchored by the fantastic performance of Matthew Lewis Johnson as Bottom Weaver. For those who are not familiar, he finds himself the butt of a fairy joke when his head is swapped for that of a donkey and is the recipient of Tatania’s misplaced, magical induced affection. As my daughter told me in a moment of clarity “Oh…I get it…he is an ‘a-s-s’ and his name is Bottom – so clever of Shakespeare.” The entire ensemble of the thespian troupe worked together seamlessly to create cheek-hurting laughter in every scene. They delivered on Shakespeare’s intent to mock his very own thespian society and nailed it with some modern-day additions that truly manifest Shakespeare’s immortal line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
So, while the fairy theme is reminiscent of Neverland and the somewhat surprising, rollicking finale evokes “Rock of Ages,” Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” creates an evening of delightful mayhem filled with laughter, love and learning. Don’t miss an opportunity to experience this show now through September 30 and take your tween or teen, they will absolutely love it!
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on shopper and innovation Insights and Analytics. She enjoys art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie tendencies, and delights in spending time with family and friends.