There are a multitude of reasons to see the Merely Players production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I’ll list only 10. It’s one way to heap praise on this witty, rambunctious comedy.
1. Director Mona Wood-Patterson has crafted a clear, colorful and fast-paced romp through Shakespeare’s beloved comedy. Employing many dramatic techniques, she separates the formal court of the Duke of Athens from the playful, dreamlike domain of the fairies and the rough burlesque of the “rude mechanicals.” Each realm has its own look, demeanor and movement style, not to mention JoAnn Nevils’ highly inventive costuming.
2. Choreographer Jessica Jane Harris supports Wood-Patterson’s vision with a robust movement vocabulary. The uproarious lovers’ quarrel after intermission should have a line about combat pay in the program. The contrasting bumpkin-shenanigans by the mechanicals has the garage-guys working, camping, fishing and finally showboating like mad when their play-within-the-play is chosen as entertainment for the palace.
The company: actors in alphabetical order.
3. Arcomano. Like her fellow players, Mandy Arcomano takes on many roles and does so with clarity and high energy. As Peaseblossom, she races around dispensing fairy dust. As an attendant at the Duke’s court, she’s dutiful. As poor Helena, she bemoans unrequited love until some of that fairy dust makes her the object of two passionate lovers.
4. Fontana. Adam Fontana as Lysander gets to play two kinds of lovers – one serious and ardent, the other besotted, argumentative and volatile. He also delivers an eager, not-so-bright Tom Snout, the lower-class workman who ends up impersonating nothing less than a Wall. And he’s Cobweb, one of the dancing sprites.
5. Fristensky. Misha Fritensky runs away with his double impersonations of the scheming Puck, Oberon’s fixer and the officious carpenter Peter Quince. Fristensky’s amazing athletic abilities are funneled into Puck’s leaping, tumbling and even flying. As Quince, he barely corrals his odd players into the wedding entertainment.
6. Gray. Elizabeth Gray infuses her three characters with elegant style (Queen Hippolyta), wide-eyed, childish wonder (Snug), and cunningly sensuous allure (Titania, Queen of the Fairies). With close-to-perfect comic timing and a dancer’s command of liquid movement, Gray displays a convincing range of skills.
7. Hohnke. Austin Hohnke first appears as the Duke then slips into garage-guy mode as Nick Bottom and again into the rude creature spell-bound Titania adores. Hohnke pushes self-aggrandizement to its comedic limits, especially when Bottom wants all the parts in the little play and ends up only with the lead.
8. Newton. Landon Newton’s deep baritone voice makes him a perfect choice for a father figure (Egeus), the king of the magical midnight realm (Oberon), and the tough workman who also gets a chance to dress in drag as Thisby, seductive in a stretch pink gown, auburn wig and whispering ways.
9. Panelli. Joey Panelli does triple duty as the two-faced lover (Demetrius) who flip-flops in his affections, and also Robin, the tailor in the troupe of players. Panelli’s gift for improv comedy undergirds his very physical interpretation as Demetrius and Lysander posture in their brilliant demonstration of male one-upsmanship.
10. Vetter. Erika Vetter is a new company member and has the delicious role of Hermia, beloved and spurned by Lysander, friend then foe of Helena, plus Philostrate, master of the revels. She, too, gets to showcase her dramatic and athletic skills in that fabulous argument-fight scene.
Would that this inventive and entertaining Shakespearean production were running another month. Final performances are Wednesday through Saturday, if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.