Two sure things in Chicago: (1) Outdoor summertime stagings of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and (2) strenuously amped-up stagings of Shakespeare's anything by Barbara Gaines. Chicago Shakespeare Theater has brought the two inevitabilities together for a production touring to 18 city parks. And with Gaines directing her own adaptation, there's no limit to the audience-goosing liberties on view.
A quick refresher: AMND is the romantic comedy with three plots, the first involving four young Athenians whose parents are on the verge of screwing up their lives by marrying them to one another in the wrong combinations. This quartet hie themselves off to the woods, where they get enmeshed in plot two, concerning the faerie king and queen, who are feuding over possession of a changeling boy.
Meanwhile, a bunch of bumpkins are rehearsing a play to help celebrate the wedding of the queen of the Amazons to the duke of Athens. The head bumpkin, Bottom, stumbles into the woods and gets enmeshed too.
Gaines's telling features hip-hop faeries, blaring pop-music interludes (Andrew Lloyd Webber to Marvin Gaye), Bottom in a Darth Vader outfit, the cutest lion, and endless Chicagoiana (starting with the city seal, running through the Cubs, and including lots of utterly gratuitous references to different spots around town).
Gaines's anachronistic filigrees are often more annoying than illuminating, suggesting a director way too determined to demonstrate what we can easily learn on our own: that what happens in a Shakespeare play might mean something even after 400 years. Here, she drops all inhibition, and the result is more a set of novelty riffs than a coherent telling. Still, there's no denying that she's a accomplished ingratiator. What's here is fun, mostly. And then there's the chance to see the moon rise as the performance unfolds. v