By D. A. Blackburn
With the opening of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the Hilberry Theatre gives history’s greatest bard his due, with a production that shines like an exotic gem.
When it comes to Shakespeare these days, there’s something refreshing about discovering a traditional production of a masterpiece – brought to life unmolested for the sake of artistic vision. All too often, well-worn works are brought to the stage with significant alteration to setting, and though these shows hold a respectable place in the modern repertoire, they frequently sacrifice entertainment value for statement. The products of purist dramatists have become rare, of late.
It’s in this respect that the Hilberry’s “Dream” succeeds most admirably. It is a straightforward interpretation with exceptional production value, left to stand on its own merits. This is surely a credit to the show’s director, Joe Calarco, whose scholarly understanding of the text flows through the cast and the production with nuance and a fluid grace. In short, all involved show a profound understanding of character and motivation.
This is no small feat in a cast of 19. Equally impressive is that the quality is most evident in several performers in just their first or second year of advanced studies at the Hilberry.
Alan Ball’s Bottom provides a delightful comic foil – and not just for his exceptionally well-executed transition to a donkey.
As Oberon, Dave Toomey performs with a confidence generally reserved for far more experienced actors. His ease with the language and his ability to deliver it with a potent undercurrent of emotion are a highlight of the evening.
But it’s second year student Justin Vanden Heuvel’s nimble, mischievous Puck that really owns the show, delivering dialogue – and guttural fairy noises – with significant charm and performing intricate choreography with a ballerino’s precision.
In fact, the entire production benefits from Nira Pullin’s choreography, which blends seamlessly into Calarco’s direction.
Moreover, the design team has pulled out all the stops for “Dream.” Lighting by Jason Pratt and sets by Melinda Pacha bring the woods to life in lush, vivid colors. Christa Koerner’s costumes show a touch of creative originality, while remaining wholly appropriate to the work, and Jonathan Weaver’s excellent sound design sets off the action on stage with a simple elegance.
The Hilberry’s “Dream” satisfies as a delightfully fresh production in the most traditional of senses. After all, the Bard ain’t broke, and this production proves he doesn’t need fixing.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Plays in rotating repertory through Jan. 29. $25-$30. 313-577-2972. http://www.wsushows.com