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The Rousuck Review: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Teresa Castracane

Maryland Morning theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck reviews "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore. The production runs through Oct. 12.

The Rousuck Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a play about transformations. That makes it an ideal inaugural production for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, which has undergone a major transformation of its own. The 12-year-old company has moved from Howard County to Baltimore and into its first, permanent indoor space.

That space itself is a place of transformation. Built in 1885 as Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust, the building on the corner of Calvert and Redwood has had many lives – most recently as a nightclub.

Chesapeake Shakespeare neatly retrofitted the ornate interior with a three-tiered, 260-seat theater inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe. Its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” makes actors and audience feel right at home in this glorious space.

Actors move among the theatergoers. Live music by songwriters ranging from Henry Mancini to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins punctuates the play. Puck, the sprite who does the fairy king’s bidding, practically soars around the theater’s various levels. 

And, the tradesmen who perform the comical play-within-the-play at the wedding of the Duke of Athens are working at the Duke’s palace; they do repairs, move furniture -- at one point clean up spilled champagne. You can almost picture these Shakespearean workmen putting the finishing touches on this very building, then stepping on stage to play their parts.

Shakespeare’s play, of course, is about love among three distinct groups of lovers. There are the royals, represented by the Duke of Athens and his bride, the Queen of the Amazons. There are the monarchs of the fairy kingdom -- Oberon and Titania. And there are two pairs of young lovers so interchangeable, even they have difficulty sorting out whom they love. Even so, Audrey Bertaux distinguishes herself as Helena, bringing a Carol Burnett-like sensibility to this much put-upon character.

The rude mechanicals, or workmen, make up a fourth stratum of society. Under Ian Gallanar’s direction, the actors who play these well-meaning bumblers deliver some of the production’s best, most consistent work. 

Gregory Burgess leads this intrepid pack as stage-struck Bottom the Weaver -- a blowhard Burgess makes endearing. Bottom is the sad soul transmogrified by Puck. The poor weaver has no idea that Puck has given him a donkey’s head – terrifying his cronies and bewitching Titania into falling in love with him.   

Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly's Titania and Scott Alan Small's Oberon aren’t especially commanding figures, although Titania’s band of fairies is a tough, earthy lot. A few actors overdo their performances – perhaps because they’re more accustomed to performing outdoors at Chesapeake Shakespeare’s summer venue.

The standout performance is Vince Eisenson’s portrayal of Puck, who stirs up most of the play’s mischief. When he isn’t moving at warp speed, this Puck has a delightful knack for putting a slow-motion -- or even stop-action -- spell on the other characters. And he brings an amusing country Western twang to his delivery.

Designer Kristina Lambdin’s costumes have clever touches, especially those worn by the workmen in the play-within-the-play. Bottom’s crucial donkey mask – a full head rubber mask -- is a poor choice, however, muffling some of the actor’s words. 

This is Chesapeake Shakespeare – and artistic director Ian Gallaner’s – third “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It may be the perfect outdoor play, but it shows the company’s new indoor theater off to advantage. Welcome to Baltimore, Chesapeake Shakespeare! 

-- J. Wynn Rousuck

Update Monday, October 6: Two actors were misidentified in the September 29 review of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." We have corrected the names in this transcript, and we issued an on-air correction today. We regret the error. 

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.
Jamyla Krempel is WYPR's digital content director and the executive producer of Wavelength: Baltimore's Public Radio Journey. She collaborates with reporters, program and podcast hosts to create content for WYPR’s online platforms.