Towards the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus asks, “What revels are in hand? Is there no play, to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”
Well, after over a year in which in-person amusements were perilously sparse given the pandemic’s tragic advent, now, finally, there is once more reveling to be had. So if you’re in the mood for a crisp couple hours of anguish-easing, you may want to head on down to for the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival’s production of this Shakespearean classic, which will be playing for one more weekend (July 15th through 18th) at Carlin Park’s scenic Seabreeze Amphitheater.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, a basic rundown: As Theseus, king of Athens, and his Amazon bride, Hippolyta, prepare for their royal nuptials which a group of laborers, also called the rude mechanicals, are ineptly putting together a play to celebrate, a love quadrangle heats up between four young athenians. Hermia and Lysander are head over heels for each other, but Hermia’s childhood friend Helena is utterly lovesick over her ex, Demetrius, who is also hot for Hermia and is her father Egeus’s preferred suitor.
When Theseus decrees that Hermia must submit to Egeus’s wishes or else take a vow of chastity, she and Lysander decide to run away together instead. But after the two confide in Helena, who tells Demetrius of the lover’s plans in an attempt to gain his trust, he heads into the forest to stop them, and Helena follows. Meanwhile, fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania have been having their own romantic problems, so Oberon enlists trickster fairy Puck to use a magic flower to play a little prank on his wife and to bewitch the Athenians back into balance while he’s at it.
As you can imagine from that madcap setup, a heck of a lot of hilarity then ensues. This was, I believe, the fifth staging of the play I’ve seen, and though it may be a bit overdone in comparison to some of the bard’s other works, in my eyes, at least, it never quite gets old. And while this production doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is pretty all-around outstanding, and there are a few unique touches that make it worth checking out even if you’re a Midsummer veteran.
For instance, some evocative choreography by Vickie Joleen Anderson, who also dances up a storm as one of Titania’s fairy entourage, does much to set a joyous mood for the proceedings.
Exceptional costuming and some zany oversized flower props also contribute to excellent production design, and the actors too are at the top of their game. As befitting the crazed comedy, the cast was incredibly high-energy, animated enough to remain compelling even when the elevated language meant one might not catch the literal meaning of every word.
The play also did break the mold with some fun bits of genderbending, as Egeus was played by Amalie Whiteleather as Egea, Hermia’s overbearing mother instead of the traditional father. Two other female actresses in traditionally male parts were two of the cast standouts. Laura Plyler moved nimbly around the stage as a spirited and spritely puppet master, Puck, and Kristina Parker was a true comedic triumph as Bottom, swaggering as she made the most of her characters’ slapstick bravado.
John Campagnuolo was also memorable as a sweet and charming Lysander, and Abagail Garcia and Madison Fernandez made for a fierce and dynamic Helena and Hermia. Quite interestingly, given that the romantic conflict between them is at the heart of the play, the two actresses also looked so similar that one might mistake them for twin sisters. This casting choice seemed to highlight the fact that as Helena puts it in a lovelorn soliloquy, love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.
With the physical differences between the two women minute, the mysterious forces of illusion that make it so Demetrius and Lysander prefer one over the other move to the forefront. The altered state that we find in dreams can have a lot in common with the one that blinds us to the flaws of a lover, a force that, though it may not be literal fairy magic, can offer us an exhilarating transcendence. As emphasized by Midsummer’s meta-theatrical elements, we also might experience that transcendence as we allow ourselves to get absorbed into a work of art.
The characters emerge from their transformative night in the forest purged of their darkness. And, for an audience who are just now emerging from a surreal season of solitude, perhaps laughing along at their antics could serve much the same function. So now may just be the perfect moment to let your eyes glaze over as if you too had been bewitched by a puckish nymph, and surrender to some Shakespeare under the stars.
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!