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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Otherworld Theater

Or: Go home Helena, you’re drunk

One of the corner stones of classic comedy, Shakespeare’s Midsummer can at times be relegated to a tired old, summer stock piece. It can be done bloodlessly; with tinkling fairies, the lovers perpetually awash in feelings, and Bottom a mere pompous braggart instead of a lovable pompous braggart. How much then is Holly Robison’s incarnation to be thanked for bringing what is supposed to be a frenzied bacchanal of sex and violence to us. In the small, dim Side Project Theater the action is presented in the promenade or immersive style. Actresses fly past inches from your knees, suitors are hurled across the room and, unless you chose to avert your eyes, you can catch eyefuls of intimate caresses between the monarchs of the forest.

Fleeing an unwanted marriage Hermia (Letitia Guillaud) and her lover Lysander (Ken Miller) flee into the Athenian forest pursued by her unloved but parentally approved suitor Demetrius (Tim Larson) who is in turn perused by Hermia’s closest friend Helena (Mary-Kate Arnold). Meanwhile the King and Queen of the fairies Oberon (Geoff Zimmerman) and Titania (Caitlin Jackson) continue their millennia long again/off again relationship abetted by Oberon’s elfish squire Puck (Julia Rigby) and a magic date rape drug. On top of all that a small band of Athenian craftsmen, preparing for some amateurish theatricals, arrive in the forest and through everything into chaos.

Robison has set her midsummer during the 1940’s (who’s smooth and somber fashions are well distilled by Carrie Campana), and though the loomings of The War are not readily apparent brighter remembrances dot the space. Helena’s liberated spirit, as well as her fondness for strong drink to dull the ache of a broken heart, endears her to some and reviles her to others. Quince (Maria Burnham) leader of the amateur thespians, is a straight lick for Rosie the Riveter but with her “We Can Do It” attitude constantly undermined by her companies chicaneries. And Puck’s bursts of energy and solemn aside glances remind one nothing of so much of Jack Benny’s sly antics.

The language, the poetry and puns that still harvest up our guffaws four hundred years since their penning, has been sadly neglected. Despite the closeness of the action we follow the broad swath of what the characters mean, rather than what they actually say. The bold decisions of the cast make that swath all the more colorful. Arnold and Gulliaud stand out for their 100% commitment to passion. The first’s soused sprawlings trammel up the most laughs of the production as Helena grieves, nuzzles, and flings her way after her impossible dream; bringing her words at times to explosive levels and then dropping them down again to barely audible whispers. The second’s unwinding from prim and proper daughter to wrathful avenger is as fully committed as you could wish a Hermia to be.

Strangloop Theater prizes intimacy above all else, and their promenade style does not so much bring the action to you as you into the action. Come prepared to duck, weave, and dance to ukulele strains and forties hits. It’s midsummer and a good story worth telling. And while it may be ribald, cacophonous and soused at times, it is never bloodless.

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