A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 88: Dreaming with Bottom

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Briana Maia and Michael F. Toomey. Photo Kevin Sprague.
Briana Maia and Michael F. Toomey. Photo Kevin Sprague. 

Tony Simotes’ location for Shakespeare and Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a voodoo-haunted New Orleans. The best part about his production was he gave it to us straight. The supernatural characters, Oberon and Titania, were clarified and humanized into something that almost approached matter-of-factness. This made me hear the play very differently. The set was bright and golden; the action direct. The rustics, for once, did not overplay, and Bottom the Weaver, in a beautifully-heard dream speech took us on a journey into mystery and something beyond the bright, clear world the production favored. It was clarifying to see a straight-out production which was at ease with its eroticism, more interested in direct energy.

Rocco Sisto, one of the most beautiful voices in American theatre, played an Oberon who seemed bemused, not dominating. Merritt Janson was a Fairy Queen who took everything in stride. None of the strangeness of the potion-induced bestiality was unnatural or forced. Oberon runs the play, but except for a very few outbursts, he was distant. During the elaborate physical antics of the four lovers late in the action, he stood aside watching. Johnny Lee Davenport was a real, believable Bottom. He had a natural enthusiasm, not a ranting kind. Mr. Davenport took himself seriously as an actor and did not condescend to the role, as many actors do. Bottom’s dream was a slow-spoken, lyrical, musical event in his performance. It was the thing in the production which brought us close to the mysteries.

There were strong performances from the four lovers: Cloteal L. Horne, Kelly Galvin, Colby Lewis, and David Joseph. Specific performances from this quartet made the roles less interchangeable, and that was good. Malcolm Ingram as Starveling/Moonshine made his few words riveting. This actor always connects speech and movement magically. I look forward to his Falstaff later in the season. Costumes were inventive. Puck looked more like a woodsman than a fey creature. Most beautifully costumed was Oberon, his weeds suggesting power and richness. There was much music composed by Alexander Sovronsky, enjoyably played, adding to the Louisiana mood. Atalanta Siegel spoke her few lines with clarity and beauty. You listened to her. This production gave me brightness and clarity, physical exuberance, and a different way of looking at the most powerful characters in the script, Titania and Oberon.

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