A MIDSOMMER NIGHTS DREAME, Velvet Willies, at Chicago Actors Studio. Elizabeth Bagby's somewhat new wave costuming, with aristocrats in prep-school getups and fairies in Westwood trash wear, has probably been done dozens of times (Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing seems one obvious influence). Reversing sex in some casting is a full-blown Shakespearean tradition, and having the same couple play Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/Oberon is practically one. Everything here's been done before, but then there can't be many untried spins left. And besides, director Jeff Harnish's collage of familiar tricks yields a lively, accessible production.
Not that it's perfect. The leads--Kathrynne Ann Rosen and Lewis Lain--are a little more polished than present, and Amy Harmon as Puck occasionally gets lost in unworkable interpretations. But the three are charismatic and talented enough to carry the play. The rest of the cast are less flashy but more consistent, especially Joe Stearns (Lysander), who deftly blends modern and classical declamatory styles, and Melissa Laramy (Helena), whose monologues and asides are transfixing.
As somehow always happens, the actors portraying Pyramus and Thisbe (Scott Allen and Patricia Austin) in the play-within-the-play steal both shows. Allen's goofy, charming Bottom is doltish vanity personified, yet Austin's giddy, bubblewrap-popping fairy and histrionic mop-wigged Thisbe trump him, garnering more than half the laughs in the show.