I have to admit that I drag my feet a little when it comes to Shakespeare. Not when it comes to reading the plays—I could spend weeks upon weeks absorbing the wordplay and tragedy and cheeky shenanigans on the page. I’m a nerd like that. But when it comes to viewing a theater group’s rendition of Shakespeare, it’s hit or miss. And often miss, with painful results.
The Montana Actors’ Theatre version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not a miss. I won’t go so far as to say it’s perfect, but the acting power, the momentum, the charm is as professional as I’ve seen in Missoula. And more fun than I’ve had with a Shakespeare play in a long time.
MAT’s artistic director, Grant Olson, directs the comedy, and he's made it a highly physical, acrobatic piece of entertainment. When characters fight, they fight hard—wrestling each other to the ground and turning red with fury. When the characters are in love, they’re naturally playful, giddy and starry-eyed with each other. Most of the interactions are graceful at the same time that they seem impromptu and honest.
It’s a good Shakespeare production when, as an audience member, you’re not trying to decipher the dialog. And in MAT’s production, the delivery is done well enough that even if you miss the meaning of a few lines, you still get it. Every gesture and tone change tells the story just as well.
In fact, pretty much every actor rises to the occasion in some way or another, even the ones with limited stage time or underdeveloped backgrounds. But there are a few that stand out: Rebecca Sporman plays the rebellious Hermia with a keen ability to go from optimistic woman in love to enraged animal. Arcadea Jenkins nails Helena as an equal mix of cringeworthy fool and bewildered pawn. And both show a talent for comedic timing.
British actor Jim Badcock (a UM exchange student) is hilarious as Bottom. Laugh-out-loud hilarious. He plays the absurd, asinine character (who literally becomes an ass) with just the right amount of ego plus insecurity to make him endearing. Sarina Hart is the mischievous Puck but with her own odd mannerisms (she makes the strangest clicking noises with her mouth) and goblin-ish air. She and the very tall and magnetic Reid Reimers as her master, Oberon, make for a riveting pair.
Kitty Deyo's Greek-styled costumes go well beyond toga-styled sheets: The forest characters are bedazzled with fern-covered cloth and blinking lights. And the set by Karl Mitchell is really intriguing and, in the Crystal Theatre, intimate. The audience sits in seats elevated on risers above the action of the play, which all takes place in the center of the room in a gauntlet-like space.
On the Sunday afternoon I saw the play with a little over 20 other people—a small audience, for sure, but an amused one. This production is the kind that turns the uninitiated viewer into a full-on Shakespeare lover. Don't miss it.
Midsummer Night's Dream continues at the Crystal Theatre tonight, Wed., April 28, through Saturday, May 1, at 7:30 PM nightly. $15.