Smiles will abound during St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's enchanting interpretation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which is doused with whimsy and charm.
Director Rick Dildine has infused this very accessible Shakespeare comedy with a playful spirit reminiscent of screwball comedies. The night June air is punctuated by giggles from the diverse audience — such a wonderful sound!
And why not? A merry band of mischievous fairies gets mixed up in romance when love potions are used on the wrong people in a magical forest.
In Athens, Hermia is promised to Demetrius but loves Lysander. Meanwhile, Helena, Hermia's best friend, loves Demetrius. It gets complicated when spells are cast. "The course of true love never did run smooth," Lysander says. But oh boy, let the games begin.
The king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, aren't immune either. And a traveling theater troupe's leading player, Bottom, winds up with a donkey's head because of all the mumbo-jumbo. The goofy performers, known as The Mechanicals, are headed to entertain at the Duke of Athen's wedding.
So, there are three groups involved in their own plots — the Greek royals, the theatrical group, and the fairies. Dildine keeps everything easy to follow and action moves swiftly.
The energetic cast is game, and ready for the fun. The young couples are a breath of fresh air, with Cassie Thompson (Hermia) and Rachel Christopher (Helena) particularly winning as the spunky single ladies. Pete Winfrey (Demetrius) and Justin Blanchard (Lysander) are strong as their robust matches.
Stephen Pilkington has a distinctive, old-timey comic actor's voice and is hilarious as the perplexed Bottom.
Speaking of great voices, Reginald Pierre's rich tones are a welcome addition to any show, and he's Snout, part of the troupe. Funny Alan Knoll is perfectly cast as daffy Snug, another player.
Nancy Anderson, as Titania, and Timothy Carter, as Oberon, exhibit a delightful chemistry together, and are such smooth pros commanding the stage.
The impish fairies frolic with delight. Ben Watts, a Belleville native, is adorable as Moth, as is his amusing posse, Myke Andrews as Cobweb, Gabriela Diaz as Peaseblossom and Raina K. Houston as Mustardseed. Watts also portrays Philostrate, Master of the Revels, looking dapper in tails.
In keeping with the jaunty feel, Puck is portrayed by twins Austin G. Jacobs and Ryan A. Jacobs, who are just dandy scampering around, causing confusion.
Belleville native Whit Reichert is an imposing Egeus, Hermia's father who is unhappy with his headstrong daughter's choice.
The production's clever set by Scott C. Neale, beauteous lighting by designer John Wylie and sound design by Rusty Wandall magnify the fun, lighthearted feel.
And the costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis are stunning, ranging from the 1930s to 1950s. Hermia and Helena's pastel confections are fetching, while Titania's shimmering blue-green gown is exquisite.
Of special note is original music written for the show by Peter Mark Kendall, with composers Brian Seyle and Matt Pace, also music director, lending their skills. The engaging music adds another layer of appeal.
The look, the feel, and the story combine for a madcap romp that is a bright cultural happening in our area this summer. Bring chairs, blankets and a picnic and enjoy (or spring for the chairs in front). Not much could be finer, sitting next to the St. Louis Art Museum on a summer's eve and watching such an immersive experience.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
- What: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
- Where: Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park
- When: 8 p.m. nightly, except Tuesdays, through June 26
- Cost: Free admission; premium seating available $20.
- Information: www.sfstl.com or 314-531-9800