Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Saint Louis University

    I welcome novel interpretations of the classics, especially when the ideas are as resonant as the ones in the recent staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Saint Louis University.

    The distinctiveness of director Lucy Cashion’s approach was evident from the start. Instead of adopting natural postures, Shakespeare’s highborn characters in ancient Athens struck poses reminiscent of the angular figures painted on classical Greek pottery. Lou Bird’s costumes for these characters also evoked the classical period.

    The stylization emphasized the rigidity of the society in which Theseus, the Duke of Athens, delivers this stern warning to Hermia, a young woman who wants to marry Lysander instead of Demetrius, the man of her father’s chosing:

    To you your father should be as a god;
    One that compos’d your beauties; yea, and
    To whom you are but as a form in wax,
    By him imprinted, and within his power,
    To leave the figure, or disfigure it.

    If Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, her punishment would be:

    Either to die the death, or to abjure
    Forever the society of men.

    At SLU, when Athenian youths fled from Athens, they left behind not only its draconian justice but also their own rigidity. They moved and acted differently in the wood, even before being subjected to fairies’ love potion. The staging emphasized the magic of the wood by forcing the characters to enter it through a portal that left them stunned.

    The play’s fairies had their own stylized way of moving that pointed up the harshness of the society in which Oberon, the king of the fairies, humiliated his queen, Titania, to settle a score. Puck, the play’s chief prankster, had a personality that was contained rather than playful, but this unconventional portrayal worked in the context of this production.

    As unusual as it was in some ways, the SLU staging was traditional in its treatment of the play’s language. The actors were consistently excellent at bringing out both the meaning and the beauty of their lines. In the large cast were:

    • Ross Rubright as Thesus
    • Madelin Wysocky as Hippolyta
    • Grace Wallis as Lady Egea
    • Meredith Lyons as Hermia
    • Jack Kostello as Philostrate
    • Bryce Palmer as Demetrius
    • Cameron Schoeck as Lysander
    • Abigail Bottleson as Helena
    • Rose Reiker as Peter Quince
    • Spencer Lawton as Nick Bottom
    • Allie (Alexia) Thornton as Robin Starveling
    • Morgan Schindler as Tom Snout
    • Maida (Molly) Dippel as Puck
    • Kevin Karam, SJ, as Oberon
    • Luke Fava as Flute
    • Maasai Rodgers as Titania
    • Anna Hsu as Peaseblossom
    • Jordan Miller as Cobweb
    • Sophie Smith as Moth
    • Gabi Caruso as Mustardseed
    • Celeste Gardner as Snug

    Lou Bird’s scenic design was attractive and flexible. The central platform nicely set off Titania’s bower and gave the nobles an appropriate place from which the watch the Pyramus and Thisbe play. Lucy Cashion’s sound design was beautifully keyed into the action. Choreographer Holly Seitz Marchant, lighting designer Michael Sullivan, and intimacy choreographer Delaney Piggins all made admirable contributions to a fascinating production that brought out dark elements in the play that are easy to overlook.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Peter Wochniak, ProPhotoSTL