By Martin F. Kohn
What do you call 800 people enjoying a Shakespeare play outdoors on a warm July evening in midtown Detroit?
How about a midsummer night’s dream? Which not coincidentally is the latest offering from Shakespeare in Detroit, intrepid producer Samantha White’s theater company, which brings free Shakespeare performances to various locations in the city. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the troupe’s first foray into comedy, was staged Saturday at New Center Park. And yes, the place was filled with some 800 people.
They were treated to a delightful production, with some standout performances, a less than cooperative sound system, a few smart choices on the part of director Cal Schwartz and/or his actors, and a couple of questionable choices, culprit(s) unknown. Well, as is said in Act One, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Let’s get the complaints out of the way; there aren’t many. The play was publicized as beginning “promptly” at 8:30. It began promptly at 9. The amplification paid homage to the three bears. Sometimes it was too soft, sometimes it was too loud, sometimes it was just right, and occasionally it just growled. Finally, most contemporary productions edit Shakespeare, usually for the sake of brevity. Consequently, this production never dragged, but I did miss the famous speech that starts off, “The lunatic, the lover and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact.”
Now for the good stuff. There was no scenery, just as in Shakespeare’s time. I would not wish this on every play, but it’s nice to remember how imagination can fill in the gaps.
Most of Shakespeare’s plays have one or two huge roles and several substantial and smaller roles, but “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is all substantial and smaller roles. Schwartz also has many of his actors play two parts. Thus, opportunities to shine are spread around. Especially fine work is done by:
Laura Heikkinen as Hermia, the woman with two suitors: the one she loves and the one her father has picked. Aristocratic in bearing and bit reminiscent of Jane Fonda in voice, Heikkinen conveys Hermia’s defiance and resolve.
Jennifer Cole as the fairy queen, Titania, and Hippolyta, bride-to-be of Duke Theseus. She overdoes it nicely as the fairy queen in chemically-induced love with a man with a donkey’s head, and puts on a convincing Caribbean accent as Hippolyta who is, as the text says, from another country.
Chris Jakob, as mischief-making Puck, is indefatigable as he leaps and dashes about.
A special shout-out goes to Patrick Hanley in the small part of Snug, one of the tradesmen preparing their performance of “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the duke and his bride. Tabbed to play the lion in “Pyramus,” he’s always silently working on his scary pounce while more important things are going on around him.
Besides directing, Schwartz also designed the costumes. For whatever reason they are of vaguely late Victorian vintage, the era of Oscar Wilde’s plays, but they are visually appealing and make it easy to tell the characters apart.
Additional performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are planned. Whenever and wherever they may be it’s certainly a pleasure to have Shakespeare in Detroit.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Shakespeare in Detroit
2 hours, 15 minutes
7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6
Grand Circus Park (right outside of Comerica Park)
Sponsored by the Detroit 300 Conservancy.
Noon Sunday, Aug. 17 & 24
4421 Woodward Ave. in Detroit.
$75, including brunch.
Limited seating; advance reservations required: 313-832-5700