Playwright: William Shakespeare
Venue: Rock Ledge Ranch (tent), Garden of the Gods Park. Colorado Springs CO
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance: Thursday, August 13, 2015.
It’s time for the annual Theatreworks Shakespeare in the park experience, and what a glorious experience that is.
Garden of the Gods is one of the premiere city parks in the world. Theatreworks is one of the finest companies in Colorado, doing a script by the most successful playwright of all time. A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings together all the best elements of theater: an entertaining script, some of the best actors on the front range, and a very special setting.
For those who haven’t seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. The story is set in Greece. The conflict is over arranged marriages, as Hermia (Anna Faye Hunter) is doomed to marry Demetrius (Michael Lee) even though she loves Lysander (Erik Brevik). Toss in some magic potions and a hilarious “play within a play,” and you get a superb theater experience in an enchanted setting.
There are three couples involved in the marriage hijinks. Theseus, Duke of Athens (Jim Braswell) and his bride to be Hippolyta (Tanisha Lynn Pyron) are hosting a festival in honor of their nuptials. Demetrius, who is not a model groom, is courting Hermia, who would have none of him but for her father’s match making. Lysander would have Hermia if he could, but Helena when he can’t. It’s a regular soap opera of sexy characters who get mixed up in assorted bonds and betrayals.
The performances here are first rate. Shakespeare described Hermia as
“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”
Anna Faye Hunter, though little, is sexy, feisty, determined, and best of all, abundantly fierce. Do not mess with her. The diminuitive Hunter has a meltdown with a much taller Helena (Rachel Baker). When she tosses out a threat, she means it:
"How low am I? I am not yet so low,
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes."
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes."
Hunter goes after Helena, claws first, ready to scratch out those very eyes. This is a far different role from Hunter’s previous Theatreworks appearance (as Marvel Ann in Psycho Beach Party). This is by far the meatier role, and Hunter distinguishes herself by defining Hermina and bringing her vividly to life after 400 plus years.
Rachel Baker’s Helena is equally impressive. Baker is made up to resemble Amy Farrah Fowler from the Big Bang Theory. It’s both an apt and contemporary comparison; both are smart, witty women with problems attracting men. Baker plays the eternal victim well; even when men are swooning over her, she takes it as derisive mockery.
The beefcake here is left to Eric Brevik and Michael Lee. As the hunky competitors for Hermia and Helena, these guys are divine. That they both wind up in their underwear (boxers, if you must know) says more about their sex appeal than their acting skills. Brevik and Lee are well endowed in both categories.
Mark Autry (Flute) has the opposite problem; his costume winds up to be a full on drag show, complete with black nylons and high heels. Autry, by the way, is very fetching in drag, and did a commendable job of maneuvering about the stage in heels.
Jim Braswell (Oberon/Theseus) and Tanisha Lynn Pyron (Titania/Hippolyta) do double duty.
They are fully capable of all four characters between them, but they are particularly effective in their non-royal roles of Oberon and Titania. Braswell sprays his mischief & magic potions all over the stage, creating the chaos necessary for Shakespeare’s story to unfold. Pyron’s Titania is a gem as she wakes up to realize she is in love with an ass (the donkey type). I know women who have had the same revelation (including my ex-wife).
|Hippolyta (Tanisha Lynn Pyron) & Theseus (Jim Braswell)|
Sammie Joe Kinnett is perfectly cast as Puck the Jester, and he delivers with his personal brand of physical comedy. He knows this Puck guy well. For the record, if you’re a Sammie Joe fan, you need to see his slick dance moves here. He rocks the house when he breaks into the Hip Hop Fairies’ choreography.
|The Hip Hop Faires, with Tatiana (Tanish Lynn Pyron)|
Likewise, the cast of the play within a play, The Mechanics, is a very solid one.
though, it is Nick Bottom, portrayed with show stopping skill by Robert Rais, that drives A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Theatreworks. Rais doesn’t just overact appropriately as Pyramus in the rankly amateur rehearsal and performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. He literally becomes an ass for Titania. With headgear that brings up some creepy memories for Coloradans, Rais whinnies, neighs, stomps his hooves, and delivers his lines just like an ass. I mean that in the best possible way. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy, and Rais injects every knee slapping belly laugh he can into Shakespeare’s script, at times bringing the audience to tears of pure joy.
|Welcome to DIA|
Murray Ross’ experienced hand brings out the comedic genius in Shakespeare’s verse; reading the script is not the same as delivering the lines in the funniest possible way. His’ direction makes for a fast paced experience, where the fairies can actually enter onto the stage from the darkness of the forest just beyond. He has creatively mixed modern costumes and contemporary music to update a script that still speaks to us across the centuries.
Mounting a production in a tent has its challenges, and the cast and crew met them without missing a beat. In the first act, there was some kind of motorcycle racing happening nearby. For about five minutes, the roar of motorcycles intruded on the show. The actors simply raised their voices, compensating for the roaring engines in the background. The second act was punctuated by about fifteen minutes of rolling thunder. The cast quickly adapted to the sounds of nature.
I’m going “off script” for a minute here to address the significant portion of theater fans who are intimidated by a classic but long dead playwright whose work is mostly in verse. You know who you are, and you know who I’m talking about. Please…try it. See A Midsummer’s Night Dream. You’ll like it. It’s not as stodgy, not as stilted, and not as ancient and distant as you think. It’s funny. It’s silly. It’s engaging. It’s surprising. Most of all, after more than 400 years, it’s still marvelous entertainment. The best part is that you can then tell your friends that you “get” Shakespeare. I assure you that they will be suitably impressed.
Whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or not, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a worthy experience. You’ll get excellent acting, creative direction, and the master’s script done in a unique setting. You might leave the park asking yourself why you only catch such a classic once a year. I was asking myself the same question.
There is ample free parking at the Rock Ledge Ranch. It’s the first left turn when you enter Garden of the Gods Park from 30th Street.
The theater tent is an easy 5 minute walk from the parking area. However, heavy rains can make it more difficult. Open toed shoes tend to collect pebbles, so sneakers may be advisable. Although the walkway is lighted by small solar yard lights, you may want a flashlight after the show (or the current version of a flashlight: a smart phone).
Theatreworks offers on site concessions; hot dogs, soft drinks and ice cream.
Rest rooms are available, but not as easily accessed as they would be in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater. Plan accordingly.
This show closes on August 22, 2015
PHOTO CREDITS: Theatreworks.
PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:
We hit the Happy Hour at Salsa Brava, Rockrimmon before the show. Reduced prices on appetizers and beverages make SBR an excellent choice for that small slice of time between the 5:00 whistle and the 7:30 curtain. Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, 3:00-6:00, bar and patio only. I had the chicken quesadilla and a Dos Equis lager; Roxie had the Baja Rolls appetizer and a house margarita. Total damage about $25.00. We were in around 5:45 and out by 6:45, leaving us plenty of time to get to the park.
Director: Murray Ross
Assistant Director: Jeff Flygare
Lighting Design: Vance McKenzie
Costume Design: Ashley Gamba
Scenic Design: Murray Ross/Alexis Tucker
Choreography: Ron “Future” Jules
Assistant Choreographer: Tiffany Tinsley Weeks
Stage Manager: Timothy J. Muldrew
Assistant Stage Manager: Elise Jenkins
Francis Flute: Mark Autry
Helena: Rachel Baker
Oberon/Theseus: Jim Braswell
Lysander: Erik Brevik
Snug: Danny Bristol
Snout: Melvin Grier
Hermia: Anna fay Hunter
Puck/Philostrate: Sammie Joe Kinnett
Demetrius: Michael Lee
Peter Quince/Egeus: Tom Paradise
Titania/Hippolyta: Tanisha Lynn Pyron
Nick Bottom: Robert Rais
Starveling: Steve Wallace
Hip Hop Fairies: Madison Barker, Layne Bulik, Faith Farley, Sanaa Ford, Elsie Hargis