M.A. Taylor, center, as Puck. Photo / Roger Mastroianni

Great Lakes offers modern, amusing but muddled ‘Midsummer’

By Bob Abelman

According to Puck, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s” most impish of fairies, “If we shadows have offended/Think but this and all is mended/That you have but slumber’d here/While these visions did appear.”

Shakespeare’s play is, by nature, a dreamy charade that allows for mortals to mingle with pixies and for all sorts of absurdities to seem commonplace. Among its assorted subplots, this absolutely delightful diversion revolves about two young couples (Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius) in love with the wrong partners, who venture into the woods and fall prey to mischievous fairies and their manipulations of the human heart.

Past productions of this play by Great Lakes Theater – and there have been six others, mostly when the company went by the title Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival – tend to take Puck at his word for they were truly hypnagogic affairs.

For its 2003 and 2010 productions, for instance, the play was transported from the 1590s to the hallucinogenic 1960s, complete with surreal landscapes, period costuming, a Volkswagen Beetle on stage and the interweaving of Beatles music to facilitate the storytelling.

Its current incarnation, under Joseph Hanreddy’s artistic vision and direction, is similarly surreal but it places the story and all its lyrical Shakespeare-speak in modern times.

The four young lovers – played by Michelle Pauker, Corey Mach, Keri Rene Fuller and Jon Loya – brandish fist bumps and cellphones, display the same phonetic rhythms and physicality as any millennial, and strut and fret their 2 1/2 hours upon the stage in modern-day garb courtesy of Rachel Laritz. They are surrounded by scenic designer Scott Bradley’s cosmic library, where nature seems to be taking over human invention and reality and fantasy have morphed into an imaginative amalgamation of colors and shapes.

On subplot features the “rude mechanicals” – the skilled laborers from Athens who want to put on a play for the city’s royalty, Theseus (Nick Steen) and Hippolyta (Jillian Kates) – who are made of the same modern cloth.  They consist of Peter Quince the carpenter (Tom Ford), Snug the joiner (Aled Davies), Nick Bottom the weaver (David Anthony Smith, who played the same role in the 2010 showing), Francis Flute the bellows-mender (Mack Shirilla), Tom Snout the tinker (Alex Syiek), and Robin Starveling the tailor (Jodi Dominick).

Hearing Shakespeare’s elevated language and iambic pentameter spoken with today’s casual cadence is an extraordinary thing, particularly since these performers have had significant classic training to keep that very thing from happening by accident.  It lands strangely on the ear, which not only accentuates the comedy written in the script but gives way to additional opportunities for humor by the lovers and the motley crew of mechanicals.

All this showcases a remarkable discipline and skill-set possessed by every performer on stage, made even more remarkable with the realization that they are also performing the large-scale musical “Hunchback of Notre Dame” in repertory.

Still, not everything works in this production.

The modern-day staging concept gets a bit muddled in M.A. Taylor’s portrayal of Puck as a head-banging rocker ala Mötley Crüe, which is chronologically at odds with other goings on.

Assorted fairies (Olivia Kaufmann, Mackenzie Wright) and elves (Dan Hoy, Andrew Kotzen, Mickey Patrick Ryan), as well as some of the music choices by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, seem similarly out of sync.

And, of course, some theater purists may balk at this reconstruction’s insertion of contemporary phrases and gender-correcting terminology into Shakespeare’s sacrosanct prose and poetry.

But Puck’s play-ending apology accounts for most of these occurrences.  And his earlier observation – “What fools these mortals be” – seems to cover for the rest.

On Stage

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 

WHERE: The Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th St., Cleveland

WHEN: Through Nov. 5

TICKETS & INFO: $13-$75, call 216-241-6000 or visit to greatlakestheater.org

Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Oct. 10, 2017.

Lead image: M.A. Taylor, center, as Puck. Photo / Roger Mastroianni