By Matthew Waterman
Midsummer theater in Bloomington has long been the domain of Indiana Festival Theatre, the professional branch of the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.
This year’s midsummer merrymaking is Shakespeare’s fittingly titled “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” presented by the same company under a new name. Indiana Festival Theatre is now IU Summer Theatre.
Just as IFT always did, IU Summer Theatre mixes student actors (undergraduate and graduate) with professional actors. A single cast performs “A Midsummer NIght’s Dream” in rotating repertory with a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
IFT regulars will recognize professionals returning from previous years, such as David Kortemeier and Jenny McKnight. Many other roles are filled by students of the MFA program in acting, including Ashley Dillard, Jason Craig West, Nicholas Jenkins, Tara Chiusano and Justino Brokaw.
Although “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among the most commonly performed of Shakespeare’s plays, let me briefly remind you of the premise:
Hermia (Ashley Dillard) is pursued by two suitors but devoted to only one: Lysander (Nicholas Jenkins). Hermia’s other suitor, Demetrius (Jason Craig West) is the declared choice of her father Egeus (Justino Brokaw), backed by Theseus, Duke of Athens (Grant Goodman).
In outright defiance, Hermia and Lysander escape to the forest before Hermia can be forced to wed Demetrius, who is in turn pursued by the lovesick and self-loathing Helena (Amanda Catania). Once in the forest, the lovers have escaped the authority of the court, but not the authority of the woodland fairies.
A domestic feud between the fairy king and fairy queen, Oberon and Titania (Grant Goodman and Jenny McKnight), leads to magical meddling in the young lovers’ affairs. A spry fairy called Puck (Tara Chiusano) is dispatched to manipulate the lovers with potion, but Puck inadvertently complicates matters.
Meanwhile, in a mostly separate subplot, a group of blue-collar workers that Shakespeare termed “the rude mechanicals” rehearse a play that will eventually entertain the Duke and company.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is directed here by department chairman Jonathan Michaelsen. As those who saw his production of “As You Like It” last summer may recall, Michaelsen has a penchant for re-imagining Shakespeare in bold new settings.
The music for the show is all from one drummer, Sam Bryson. Solo drum set may not sound enjoyable, but Bryson’s grooves and ornamentations are perfectly appropriate here.
This production is staged in the round in the Wells-Metz Theatre, so the set is relatively minimal. Each of the three domains (the court, the fairies and the mechanicals) has a concept associated with it.
Costume designer Kelsey Nichols outfits the rude mechanicals in employee uniforms from Home Depot, Domino’s Pizza and the like. Under the leadership of Peter Quince (a court security guard in this production, played by Ian Martin), they stage a hilariously amateurish production of “Pyramus and Thisbe.”
The concepts for the court and the fairies are not as easily discernible as the blue-collar concept for the mechanicals. The court has a logo associated with it, but the overall idea behind it could use fleshing out. The fairies are a graceful presence, but their aesthetic could be more consistent. The round they sing in the second act, for example, fits the mood much better than the drumming that accompanies them elsewhere.
But I nitpick; the show thrives on its superb cast. The mechanicals are supremely funny, particularly David Kortemeier as the easily excitable Nick Bottom. The fairies (Maria Walker, Mia Siffin, Jessica Schroeder, Zach Decker and Katie Horwitz) embody the magic they purvey.
Ashley Dillard and Amanda Catania hit all the right notes as the female lovers. Catania constantly highlights Helena’s low self-esteem in a believable way that invites the audience’s sympathies. Jason Craig West and Nicholas Jenkins are a cute and dopey pair as the male lovers.
The famously fun role of Puck is handled smartly here by the chipper and energetic Tara Chiusano.
IU Summer Theatre has a new name, but the annual Shakespeare comedy is of its usual high quality. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is nothing if not delightful.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Summer Theatre.
WHAT: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by William Shakespeare.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. July 12, 14, 16, 20 and 22; 2 p.m. July 17 and 23.
TICKETS: $15-$25. Available by phone at 800-745-3000, in person at IU Auditorium Box Office or online at theatre.indiana.edu.