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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Laberge

Rhythm of 'A Midsummer Night' christens APT's rebuilt stage

As originally published in The Capital Times on June 19th, 2017.

Photo by Liz Lauren

Drums are heard first, like the thunderous heartbeat of the surrounding forestry. Then, voices -- shrieking, calling, and laughing from afar. In mere moments, all of the merriment and mirth of Athens pours onstage in a whirlwind of youthful dance and free-spirited cheer, signaling the kickoff of American Players Theatre’s 2017 season, and the opening of their production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This vibrant telling of a mystical fairytale is scheduled to run through October of this year.

Drawn together by an honest Puck and the magical hierarchy presiding, A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows the mischief and mishaps that ensue when four lovers, a band of offbeat amateur thespians, and a horde of mischievous fairies find themselves in the same woods.

John Lang’s direction of this classic piece brings everything that could be asked for, and so much more. Patrons hike up a wooded trail in remote Spring Green, and out of the thicket are suddenly faced by APT’s beautifully renovated Hill Theatre, making its debut this season. The story of midsummer madness is a perfect fit, acting as a continuation of the journey already begun in the trek to the new space. Lang uses audience interaction to bring theatergoers directly into the world he’s created with his versatile company and creative team.

The costumes catch the audience’s attention and hold it for every piece. Murell Horton combines Greek drapery and modern elements in his designs, mingling ambiguity with Shakespeare’s prose. Then, in stark contrast, the fairies are primitive and ethereal beings that look as if they are grown directly from the earth. Horton’s costuming on Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed is enthralling. They are assembled in striking resemblance to their namesakes.

Photo by Liz Lauren

The mechanicals are treated with equal attention. Each player in the makeshift company is a physical embodiment of their trade, further simplifying the task of following the plot. They are all adorned with markers of their work: Flute with a bellows, Bottom with a woven vest, Snug with an assortment of tools, Starveling with a fitted suit, and Snout with a whole kitchen’s worth of pots, pans, and spatulas. Tracy Michelle Arnold, as Peter Quince, serves well as the understated leader who brings order to the misfits. The players are a delight in their “tedious brief scene” of Pyramus and Thisbe (Shakespeare’s clever spoof on his own Romeo and Juliet).

Photo by Liz Lauren

Passionate and dynamic, the lovers act with quick paced wit and ridiculous physicality. Demetrius, played by Nate Burger, is a relatable everyman in being betrothed to Hermia, yet loved by Helena. His exasperations are understood and his charms welcome, albeit subtler than the charms of Juan Rivera Lebron’s amiable Lysander. Melisa Pereyra and Elizabeth Reese, as Hermia and Helena (respectively), are duly enjoyable. Their battle, which interacts seamlessly with Nayna Ramey’s adaptable set design, is a hoot.

Crossing between the mortal world and the fairy kingdom is John Pribyl, as Bottom. He comes onstage with seasoned swagger during the first act, as Bottom showcases his interpretation of each role in the play. The bravado and physicality with which Pribyl dissects his role evokes a nostalgic sense of previous comic masters, such as Chevy Chase. Then, in being transformed, he embraces his outlandish character and grows even grander.

Josh Schmidt’s original compositions for the fairy world are enchanting. While most of the show breathes to the rhythm of Schmidt’s percussive arrangements, his work with vocals and stringed instruments in the lullaby is matching in its allure. Cher Desiree Álvarez, as Peaseblossom, is a stand out in these scenes. Her effortless, clear tones cut through the ensemble and lead bewitching calls and responses.

Photo by Liz Lauren

Cristina Panfilio’s Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, binds the whole show. The adolescence with which she portrays the iconic narrator could be seen as similar to that of a Peter Pan. Even in his impish intent, Puck’s charisma remains magnetic.

Lang lets the sprightly nature of both the venue and the piece take center stage in every element of this production. It is a joy for returning Shakespeare aficionados, and a thrilling first glimpse at the Bard for those who are unfamiliar. The stars look down from above as Panfilio delivers the ever-famous closing monologue, and all is right when her Robin does, indeed, restore amends.

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