Shakespeare's magical tale of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is hardly what you would call a cliffhanger. But it turned out to be just that in getting staged this year by Washington's non-profit Shakespeare Summer Festival.
It took a touch of magic for this comedy of mixed-up lovers, fairies, mischievous sprites and love potions to be brought to the Sylvan Theater this year. Funds were still in doubt a week before the first performance was scheduled in one of the area's parks in mid-July. Congressional committees at first deleted and then restored National Park Service funds for the summer Shakespeare.
"We had to put it all together in about one week -- constumes, scenery, everything. To get theatrical fabrics, we send someone to New York and back in the same day," says Ellie Chamberlain, founder and producer-director of the Shakespeare Summer Festival.
It has taken many love potions from Chamberlain over the years to reach this 20th season of summer Shakespeare on the Mall. It has to be one of the oldest continuous floating shows in town, having played to well over a million in those years.
On these summery nights, people can bring their blankets and lawn chairs to the Sylvan Theater, near the Washington Mounument, and stretch out on the grass to savor Shakespeare and perhaps a chilled glass of wine or and iced drink from a thermos. (On Tuesday night, the break in the heat wave brought couples with picnic lunches of pate, bread and salad).
The free performances begin at 8:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays, and will run through August.
On stage, Shakespeare's midsummer's madness unfolds as Puck creates a love quadrangle by mixing up love potions, the king and queen of the fairies quarrel and the inept theatrical troupe of tradesmen rehearses its version of the tragic love story of Pyramus and Thisbe.
If the production is not elegant and the performances not always that polished, this year's "Midsummer" more than makes up for this with its energy and infectious good spirits. The young people have fun doing Shakespeare and they make it fun for the audience.
Tim O'Hare, former University of Maryland quarterback and drama student, is an imposing, 6-foot-3-inch Oberon, king of the fairies, in his shimmering white costume. He also plays Theseus, duke of Athens, with the same command. The other dual roles of Titania, queen of the fairies, and Hippolyta, bethrothed to Theseus, are neatly handled by Mary Carol Maganzini, who changed from the fluttery fairy queen to the well-endowed Amazon queen.
Billy Schlaht, James Marilley, Karen Hochstetter and Therea Aceves make up the quartet of appealing young lovers. The men are properly handsome in their Athenian miniskirt costumes and the girls are spirited and lively. As Puck, Steven Dawn is acrobatic and devilishly mischievous. One problem is that his voice, with its touch of raspiness, doesn't seem quite right for this light-hearted sprite. But that is a minor complaint.
One of the delights of the show is the raffish crew of tradesmen assembled for the misdirected theater production. David Rothman plays a lusty, fustian Nick Bottom, the weaver who gets an ass's head through the ministrations of Puck and is beloved for his "fair large ears" by a drugged Titania. Adding to the fun are Michael Henderson, who is a fine Peter Quince, the carpenter; and Ron Lucas, Mel Bruce, James Gregorio and Burce Norris as bellows-mender, tinker, joiner and tailer.
Chamberlain, who appeared one season with the New York Shakespeare Festival, worked hard with the cast to make the Shakespearean language clear for the audience. She believes that an "actor must understand the works and pronouncee it as ordinary speech, and then the rhythms will come."
The lines carry remarkably well over the green slopes up to the Washington monument, though some of the rhythms are lost. As a matter of fact, the acoustics are good except for interruptions by planes coming and going from National Airport.