By Mary Boyle
Summer is quickly coming to a close, and I can't think of a better way, or a better place, to celebrate than with a performance of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the American Players Theatre.
One needn't wonder why this particular gem of Shakespeare's remains a perennial favorite; it is easily one of his most accessible plays, combining romance, magic, and a liberal amount of comedy that keeps audiences engaged from beginning to end. Midsummer is best performed outdoors, and APT's newly rebuilt stage nestled in the woods of Spring Green, combined with an excellent cast, makes for a positively magical experience.
Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Jonathan Smoots), and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Laura Rook) are getting ready for their impending wedding when the Duke is interrupted by Egeus (Chiké Johnson), who wants the Duke's hand in forcing his wayward daughter, Hermia (Melisa Pereyra), to marry the man he has chosen for her: Demetrius (Nate Burger), instead of the man his daughter wants: Lysander (Juan "Rivera Lebron). When the Duke insists that Hermia must obey her father, she and Lysander decide to flee Athens in order to get married, and they tell Hermia's friend, Helena (Elizabeth Reese), who happens to be madly in love with Demetrius. Thinking to improve her chances with Demetrius, Helena tells him of the lovers' plans, and all four end up in the woods - the stomping grounds of the fairies - on a Midsummer's Eve. Meanwhile, Oberon (Gavin Lawrence), the King of the Fairies, and Titania (Colleen Madden), the Queen of the Fairies, have had a bit of a falling out. Oberon and his right hand fairy, Puck (Cristina Panfilio), decide to have a little fun with the Fairy Queen and the mixed up lovers, with hilarious results.
One of my favorite parts of Midsummer is the play within the play: a group of tradesmen who fancy themselves actors are putting on a play for the Duke, in honor of his marriage. Peter Quince (Tracy Michelle Arnold), Bottom (John Pribyl), Flute (Casey Hoekstra), Snout (Ty Fanning), and Starveling (Xavier Roe) go to practice their play in the woods, and Puck can't resist having a little fun with them, as well, but it's their play that will have you in stitches!
The cast features some of Milwaukee's finest, including Jonathan Smoots, a charter member of APT, who played King Lear, among other roles, last season. Cristina Panfilio is in her element as Puck - she was having so much fun, it was contagious. John Pribyl is absolutely superb as Bottom. Altogether, this was the finest production of Midsummer I've ever seen. Whether you're a fan of the Bard, or you've been waiting for the perfect intro to Shakespeare, this is one performance you don't want to miss.
A Midsummer Night's Dream runs through October 8th at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green. Tickets may be purchased online at americanplayers.org, or call (608) 588-2361, but hurry - there are only 4 performances of Midsummer left! The APT Season goes through November, with performances of A View from the Bridge, The Unexpected Man, The Maids, A Flea in her Ear, and Cyrano de Bergerac.