If you’ve silently longed for an ideal production of Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream, wait no more. The Shakespeare Theatre and director Mark Lamos have conjured up all the moonlight and magic that the Lansburgh stage can hold, and Washington audiences — or audiences anywhere, for that matter — would be hard-pressed to find a more perfect piece of theater.
Lamos’s Dream sparkles with fairy dust and such luscious, sweet imagery that all one can do is sit back and wait for each magical moment to unfold and reveal the next. From Constance Hoffman’s intricate, otherworldly costumes and the incredible lighting by Robert Weirzel to the flying (yes, flying) fairies overhead, there is simply nothing to dislike about this production. It’s as though Lamos and his design team allowed their imaginations to run wild — no idea too impossible, no detail too small.
Set designer Leiko Fuseya transports us from a living room to a mystical, moonlit forest where lovers fall in and out of lust, fairies dance, and a group of rustics rehearse scenes from their upcoming play, in honor of the impending wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
This enchanted place is where Lamos unwraps his many gifts. Borrowing from the multi-ethnic styles of Hindu-inspired dance — after all, Shakespearean scholars know that the Changeling Boy is reputed to be from India — Lamos cleverly explores the nuances of Shakespeare’s text with considerable reverence to preserving its original intent. He allows the masterful artistry of his designers to enhance and support the mood that the Bard’s language creates: Weirzel’s liberal use of shadows and lamplight paired with Martin Desjardins’ evocative music — particularly Saint-SaÃ«ns’ Carnival of the Animals (Aquarium movement) — is demonstrative of the level of sophistication that many companies strive for, but few deliver. Lamos, who helmed last season’s Much Ado About Nothing, offers fresh, clean direction while taking several risks that pay off nicely.
As both Hippolyta and Titania/Queen of the Fairies, Lisa Tharps offers a wonderful, warm interpretation beside Mark H. Dold’s Theseus and Oberon/King of the Fairies. Dold is a non-traditional King with a bright, spirited playfulness that is as mischievous as his frolicking fairy friend Puck, endearingly played by Daniel Breaker.
As Bottom, David Sabin is simply irresistible. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much that I cried at a performance, but Sabin’s turn as Pyramus in the final act is so comical, I had to dry my eyes. Indeed, the entire crew of “Rude Mechanicals, ” the group of unlikely craftsmen-turned-actors who present their most inelegant dromedy on “Pyramus and Thisbe,” offer abundant laughs and hearty chuckles.
The young lovers are as impressive, most notably newcomer Kate Nowlin’s fantastic Helena and Paris Remillard’s reprehensible Lysander. After two earlier turns with the Shakespeare Theatre this year, Noel True finally comes into her own as Hermia: she and Nowlin are at their comic best exchanging brilliantly-delivered Shakespearean barbs.
In a play that is ultimately about transformation and the powers of nature, it is the careful detail in Lamos’ efforts that affect the imagination and make this Dream so difficult to wake from. The result is a smart and silvery evening of pure magic.
Someone bounced Jeff Goode’s reality check. The celebrated playwright of such raw works as The Eight: Reindeer Monologues and Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children is angry, and perhaps justifiably so. His psyche goes under the microscope in full magnification in Cherry Red’s world premiere production of Anger Box.
Sometimes funny, but always politically incorrect, Goode writes with a pen-as-sword mentality, leaving no group unscathed, no person without offense. His ten solo pieces shrewdly examine various facets of opinions on Christianity and other faith-based ideology with humor and boundless voracity. His monologues converge as one long rant, courtesy of ten “Pissy Peeps. ” From a moody prostitute sleeping with Satan (“Yes, he’s rough, but so is the commute “) to his psychopath virgin waiting to rock the Pope’s world (“Celibacy sucks ass “), Goode’s characters offer skewed perspectives on the realities of life in America and elsewhere.
Director Michelle T. Hall’s production is straightforward, treating the material with a traditional approach when it should be anything but. Goode’s script offers endless staging opportunities, but Hall’s actors seem confined by the bare space and inhibited by the box itself. The point is missed on a lot of talking heads.
The best scenes of the evening are delivered by Ian Allen in a dry, non-theatrical piece on non-believers; Tony Greenberg’s hilarious Jesus freak cum elfin Santa worshipper; and, in the funniest turn, of the evening, Monique LaForce as a tyrannical Nike, goddess of victory (you know, she did come before the shoe). LaForce offers the most conviction as the narcissistic champion who claims, “This Jesus kid — he plays a good game, ” and “There was a period during the Trojan War when I was named ‘Most Popular Deity’ seventy-nine weeks in a row. Let’s see Britney do that! “Â
Anger Box is not without its earnest questioning: In the final piece of the evening, Kathleen Akerley offers the best artistic interpretation in the provocative “This Rock, ” a monologue about God’s ability to test faith during and after the World Trade Center attacks. Akerley’s beautiful but startling moment of sobriety is the redemptive savior in a brief collection of lukewarm, hit-and-miss scenes.