Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by Elm Shakespeare Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

New Haven, CT - Hermine stayed away on a late-summer Sunday so that Elm Shakespeare Company could present their closing performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the beautiful Edgerton Park in New Haven. “A company for all seasons” that has a strong focus on education, Elm Shakespeare is now the Theatre in Residence at Southern Connecticut State University. The new long-term partnership will allow them to share both resources and expertise in ways that will help both institutions serve the New Haven community. Many college students helped to fill the audience of over 1000 happy Shakespeare lovers for closing night. 

In what was certainly a unique curtain speech, Development Director Barbara Schaffer literally stopped the battle between the soldiers of Theseus and the Amazonian warriors to welcome the audience and fundraise. The actors reacted at certain points of her appeal and then froze in place on the two fabulous stages. One side of the huge space was the mortal village of the Athenians and the other served as the magical forest of the fairies, although the trees that sheltered the audience became part of their scenery thanks to sparkling lighting. Kudos to set designer Elizabeth Bolster and Jamie Burnett who designed the truly luminous lighting. 

Photos by Mike Franzman Photography

Photos by Mike Franzman Photography

The flawless sound system was designed by Mike Skinner; this was the best sound I have experienced at any outdoor venue in the state. When I arrived 30 minutes before the curtain, I could only find a place for my lawn chair extreme house left, thereby making it difficult to see much of what happened at the edge of the forest stage, but I could hear everything. 

The players included many Equity members in leading roles, college students and many interns with the Elm Scholars high school program. The mortal roles included Dave Demke as Theseus and Tai Verley as his bride to be Hippolyta. Gracy Brown Kierstead played Egeus as the mother of Hermia, who was played with gusto by Anna Paratore. Steven Godoy played Hermia’s love Lysander and Anthony Peeples was the rich Demetrius that Egeus prefers for her daughter. Stephanie Jean Lane played the taller Helena, who is in love with Demetrius. 

The group of actors dubbed the Mechanicals could not have been more fun. Caley Miliken was the whistle-blowing (Peter) Quince, the director of the the theatrical group. Raphael Massie was a stand-out in the role of Bottom, here reimagined as a park ranger. The actors played by Jeremy Funke (Flute,) Jordan Simpson (Snug,) Nathan Tracy (Snout,) and SCSU grad Elisa Albert (Starveling) were both updated and comical. 

The fairy kingdom was populated with strong performances. Frederick Secrease ruled as King Oberon and Kristin Wold was his lovely queen Titania. Evan Gambardella in his debut with this company made Puck/Robin Goodfellow somewhat manic and full of mischief. Brianna Bauch, a SCSU senior, led the group of Titania’s fairies (all played well by Elm Scholar apprentices Zoe Eklund, Cameron Gaulin, Leone Rodriguez, Haley Maruca, Asela Shabazz, and Elisabeth Boshka) with an ethereal quality as Peaseblossom and sang the lullaby for their mistress. Ms. Bauch appeared in the 1214 Foundation’s original Shakespeare adapted musical, ‘A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as Hermia, for which she recorded an original cast album with Broadway Records. Because I had been listening to my copy of this CD on my drive to New Haven, I found it very difficult to refrain from comparing this production with just a touch of music to the musical in Newtown that I will never forget.

Director Tina Packer intentionally mixed up three time periods. She writes in her note: “As the whole thing is a dream, and we dream about events in our unconscious mind, the mixing of time periods and costumes makes perfect sense to me.” The ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, the period the teenagers live in, were now set in 1909, the year that the Brewster house was built in what is now Edgerton Park was built. The park itself was the forest of the fairy world and the ordinary people who maintain the lovely park became the Mechanicals. It all worked nicely once I figured it out. There was some political fun poked at the expense of the wall that is imperative to the action of the comical tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe and Bottom’s death scene was comically extensive. Purist might object at the attempts to enhance the humor of the Bard’s text, but I enjoyed most of them. Every aspect of this production was of the highest quality and I look forward to attending their future productions both on and off campus.