Saturday, July 21, 2007

‘Midsummer’ bends gender in Disney-ish version of Shakespeare

Published in The News Tribune, July 20, 2007
Pictured, left to right: Brittany Johnson as Helena, Faith Higgins as Lysandra, and Katiedawn Leacy as Hermia. Photo by Sharon Eason.

Director Jerry Bull chose to present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Encore! Theater as frothy family entertainment in the Disney manner.

“Last summer, as I sat on Main Street USA at Disneyland … I began to think about the similarities between Shakespeare and Disney,” he writes in his director’s notes.

In addition to Disney-fying Shakespeare, Bull has also feminized the bard by switching gender roles. In Shakespeare’s time, men played women because women were not allowed on stage (a fact Tom Stoppard made much ado about in “Shakespeare in Love”). Bull pulls a switch on that by casting women in six major male roles. Some, but not all, of the gender switches work quite well.

Alex Ropes as Demetrius and Faith Higgins as Lysander are quite effective as young men. With slim bodies dressed in Elizabethan pants and stockings, they appear as slightly effeminate young dandies.

Samantha Lobberegt is easily believable as the brash, bold and egotistical thespian, Nick Bottom, although I’d love to see her put more comic exaggeration into the role.

The part of Peter Quince as the director of a troupe of actors whose play-within-a-play is a major part of the story is played by Sylvia Shaw, an actor with extensive experience in venues including Tacoma Opera, Lakewood Playhouse, Tacoma Little Theatre and Tacoma Musical Playhouse. She plays Quince as a crusty, working-class trouper with a big heart (such a big heart, in fact, that he idolizes the hammy Bottom). Shaw is excellent in this role.

Shaw also plays Egea, the mother of Hermia. She looks so totally different that I had to get confirmation it is, indeed, the same actor. Credit hair and makeup by Katiedawn Leacy and costumes by Heidi Johnson for the amazing transformation.

Despite the change in her appearance, her acting in the part of Egea is not as convincing as in her part as Quince. Plus, I am troubled by another aspect of this character: Shakespeare wrote this character as Egius, the father of Hermia. Changing the character to Hermia’s mother is problematic. You shouldn’t rewrite Shakespeare, and in that time period a mother would not have wielded that much authority.

Finally, we come to the best of the women in male roles, Stephanie Ronge as Puck, a hobgoblin or faun also known as Robin Goodfellow, servant to Oberon, king of the fairies. Puck is one of the most delightful of Shakespeare’s characters. An androgynous fellow who can easily be played by a man or woman, Puck is mischievous and fun-loving and thoroughly lovable. Ronge plays Puck with great panache. She smirks and laughs and prances like a show horse. She is simply fabulous.

Katiedawn Leacy as Hermia and Brittany Johnson as Helena are both good. Their roughhouse tumbling in hilarious fight scenes is terrific (these two young women may be thoroughly bruised before the run of the play is complete).

The fairies played by teens and children, including 2-year-old Gwendolyn Bunten-Bull, are delightful, and the single musical number, sung by Jade Egelhoff, is very beautiful.

On the downside, director Jerry Bull is uneven in his dual roles as Oberon and Tom Snout, and Jessica Bunten is lackadaisical as Titania. There were a number of dropped lines opening weekend, and the dance interludes are weak.

It is an outdoor performance, so bring blankets and lawn chairs. Pack a picnic lunch, and don’t forget the mosquito spray.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through July 29
WHERE: Encore! Theater, 4819 Hunt St. N.W., Gig Harbor
TICKETS: $15 adults; $11 military, seniors and teens; $8 ages 7-12; $6 ages 6 and younger
INFORMATION: 253-858-2282,

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