A Midsummer Night's Dream | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It's easy to see the effort that went into Joe Dowling's exhausting staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Over the course of three hours Dowling's stalwart cast sing the blues, doo-wop, and a bit of trip-hop; fly through the air on wires; swing on ropes; and launch into various dance numbers. Add copious piped-in fog, cartoonish sound effects, PlayStation violence, and overdone costumes and wigs, and it's hard to see anything but the effort; in this staging Shakespeare's "airy nothing" of a play is so big and overdesigned that it lumbers along like King Lear.

The production's conceptual overkill seems to indicate that Dowling thinks little of his audience's intelligence. Athens isn't just a patriarchal city of unbending laws, it's a barren stronghold of frenzied militarism. The nearby forest isn't just the land of passion and irrationality, it's a debauched saturnalia presided over by predatory club kids sporting enormous codpieces. Everything is spelled out as though written in huge letters on flash cards, draining the play of the mystery and intrigue that should make this gossamer-thin fantasy beguiling.

Like so many directors tackling Shakespeare, Dowling tries just about anything to make his production "exciting" but rarely gives his actors leave to speak the truth of the play--which is a shame given the level of intelligence and skill evident in the cast. If they had been allowed to act rather than merely entertain, there might have been a good production here.

--Justin Hayford

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