Throughout the school year, Fairfax Extra publishes occasional reviews of high school shows written by student critics under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of the Critics and Awards Program, also known as Cappies. Now in its seventh season, the program recognizes the achievements of young performers, writers, directors and stage crews. For information, visit

What began as melodrama turned into a tale of mischief and mayhem, magic spells and fairies in James Madison High School's recent presentation of Shakespeare's comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

In a classic story that celebrates the foolishness of lovers, sweethearts Hermia (played by Kasey Dailey) and Lysander (Michael Shenefelt) flee into a forest before Hermia can be forced to marry the cold Demetrius (Max Chang). Upon hearing of their departure, Demetrius follows them. A lovesick Helena (Kirsten Schnittker) follows Demetrius.

Also in the forest, there is a play within the play as six commoners rehearse "Pyramus and Thisbe," starring the kooky Bottom (Sam Ludwig). These mortals' lives are disrupted by the meddling fairies of the forest, led by the king and queen, Oberon (Julian Brown) and Titania (Melanie Niemeyer), and Oberon's right-hand sprite, Puck (Julia Addis-Leiser).

In the main play, the four lovers worked well off each other. In one memorable scene when the two men, under a spell, profess their love for Helena, the comedy abounded in their faces, words and physical antics.

Ludwig's hilarious Bottom kept the audience howling with his physical comedy and amusing line delivery. Brown and Niemeyer portrayed the majestic fairy rulers with larger-than-life personalities and voices that demanded attention.

The material was presented clearly, with every performer engaged and animated, communicating obscure Shakespearean language through physical and vocal expression. At times the comedy was almost screwball. The interpretation came across as authentic and modern while maintaining the essence and integrity of Shakespeare, thanks to the energy and focus of the actors and the seamless scene transitions.

The single, many-leveled set of ivy structures included platforms in the audience that brought the theatergoers into the story. Beautiful yet simplistic, it allowed for changes between scenes and blocking that utilized the whole space.

The lighting by Ebbie Hock and Rob Ross took advantage of the themes of night and day, complete with illuminating moonbeams and sunshine. The night scenes, although realistic, sometimes darkened the actors' faces. Yet emotions were still successfully communicated through their physically and vocally expressive performances.

The sound was flawless, enhanced by music and magical effects. The makeup (Kelly Gardner) and costumes (Heather Mella, Anne Williams, Amy Willis and Laura Stump) contributed to the visual presentation, using shimmering, bright colors to emphasize the fantastic and ethereal quality of the play.

Madison's cast came off as anything but fools in this production.

Francesca Chilcote

Paul VI Catholic, Fairfax

Hermia loves Lysander, Demetrius loves Hermia, Helena loves Demetrius and Lysander loves Hermia. So goes the story line of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," recently performed by James Madison High School.

In Athens, young lovers Hermia (Kasey Dailey) and Lysander (Michael Shenefelt) escape into the fairy-filled woods to avoid Hermia's arranged marriage to Demetrius (Max Chang). Demetrius follows the two lovers into the woods with infatuated Helena (Kirsten Schnittker) tagging along. Mix in Titania (Melanie Niemeyer), the queen of the fairies, with her giggly fairy posse; king of the fairies Oberon (Julian Brown), with his faithful sidekick Puck (Julia Addis-Leiser); and a troupe of bumbling actors led by Nick Bottom (Sam Ludwig) and Peter Quince (Keegan Cassady) attempting to put together a "lamentable comedy." Then the plot thickens.

With the talented leads showing a solid understanding of the lines and playing off each other nicely, the Madison cast put a unique twist on the story, while keeping the energy flowing.

Capturing the magic and majesty of the queen and king of the fairies, Niemeyer and Brown balanced the dignity and mischievousness of their characters wonderfully and believably. The scene-stealing Mechanicals, led by Ludwig's pomposity, added flawless, perfectly timed comedy.

The breathtaking set, designed by Mark Guillaudeu, Rob Ross and Sabrina Alire, incorporated many highly detailed levels that added to the magic of the story.

Despite the difficultly Shakespeare's language typically presents, the cast of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" brought new life to this well-known classic.

Brittany Lamb

Langley High School

Three fairies (from left, Allison Crerie, Kelly Gardner and Julie Chappel) surround their queen, Titania (Melanie Niemeyer, climbing to platform), in Madison High's production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."Oberon (Julian Brown) and Puck (Julia Addis-Leiser) plot their next move.