Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

    Forest Park isn’t the only park with free Shakespeare this year. Throughout August, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is bringing a 90-minute version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to 24 public parks in Missouri and Illinois. This wonderful production is the work of TourCo, the Festival’s 20-year-old touring program.

    TourCo was originally an outreach to schools and still retains its emphasis on making Shakespeare accessible to first-time viewers. The show opens with a living study guide, in which the six cast members introduce themselves and the characters they portray. Even for someone familiar with the play, this introduction is worthwhile because each performer plays at least two roles. Brandin Vaughn’s resplendent costumes also help viewers keep track of the characters and their genders. The aviator goggles for the fairies are an especially nice touch.

    The living study guide summarizes the three main plots.

    • Two young men and two young women flee from Athens into the nearby woods, seeking to fulfill dreams of love.
    • Oberon, the king of the fairies, avenges a perceived slight by humiliating his wife, Titania.
    • A group of Athenian craftsmen rehearse a play about Pyramus and Thisbe, hoping it will be selected for performance at the wedding celebration of Theseus, the duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the Amazon queen.

    The plots intersect with riotous consequences when members of the three group encounter one another in the woods.

    The Festival describes its adaptation as afro-futurist. The innovative elements are music, choreography, and attitudes from contemporary African American culture. With these joyous additions, the play is excitingly brought to life under director Tre’von Griffith (Tre-G), who is also the music and sound designer.

    The text was sensibly abridged by Griffith; the Festival’s producing artistic director, Tom Ridgely; and its community engagement and education manager, Adam Flores. The splendid cast includes:

    • Tiélere Cheatem as Helena, Hippolyta, and Peter Quince
    • Rae Davis as Hermia, Tom Snout, and Titania
    • Ricki Franklin as Demetrius and Nick Bottom
    • Asha Futterman as Theseus and Oberon
    • Mel McCray as Lysander and Francis Flute
    • Christina Yancy as Egeus, Snug, and Puck

    Their handling of the language is an admirable fusion of a modern sensibility with a keen appreciation of the original meter and meaning.

    As the Athenian youths, Cheatem, Davis, Franklin, and McCray have great fun with the adroitly choreographed combat induced in the woods by a misapplied love potion. Franklin luxuriates in Nick Bottom’s all-encompassing desire to perform. Christina Yancy savors every moment of Puck’s impishness.

    Futterman and Davis produce a remarkably satisfying resolution to the antagonism between Oberon and Titania. As Theseus, Futterman is so responsive to the Pyramus and Thisbe play that the absence of other viewers is no problem. No one else can watch because all the other actors are throwing themselves into the enthusiastic but unschooled efforts of the Athenian craftsmen to put on a play.

    Laura Skroska’s production design has the flexibility required for easy adaptation to 24 different locations. It worked just fine where I saw the play: a plaza in Old North St. Louis across the street from Crown Candy Kitchen. One set piece raises a smile when it is reconfigured to signify the change of location to and from the woods. The clothing racks are fully exposed, but they are far enough from the action that costume changes do not attract unwanted attention.

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at 6:30 p.m. through August 27 in a different location every night. Reservations are not required. The full schedule can be found here.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Phillip Hamer
    From left: Christina Yancy as Puck, Ricki Franklin as Nick Bottom, Mel McCray as Francis Flute, Tiélere Cheatem as Peter Quince in
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream.