Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermissions

William Shakespeare is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his work has well outlasted him and is being produced regularly throughout the world so, he must have done something right. His stories are timeless and can relate to anyone in any era which is what, I think, helps the longevity of his work. The comedies are my personal favorite, but, that’s just me, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s latest offering, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is on top of my list so, I went in with lofty expectations. However, this production, Directed by Gerrad Alex Taylor did not disappoint in any way.

Elana Michelle as Hippolyta and Michael Toperzer as Theseus. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Briefly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fanciful triste through the city and wood of ancient Athens. A young woman, Hermia, is betrothed to one noble man, Demetrius, while in love with another, Lysander, who just so happens to be in love with her. Bring in Helena, who is in love with Demetrius, but the feelings are not mutual. Enter the Fairy King, Oberon, and Fairy Queen, Titania who are having their own lover’s quarrel, and a sort of practical joke including dew from a certain plant that makes a person fall in love with the first person they see after waking up. Throw a little troublemaking imp named Puck in the mix and you have a farcical comedy that has lasted hundreds of years… for good reason.

Designing a set for an outdoor setting can be challenging but Daniel O’Brien’s Set Design is impeccable as it is simple. Not calling for much in the way of scenery, O’Brien has managed to turn this small corner of space in the midst of “ruins” of a building at a historic park into the solid and larger than life Athens, as well as a blissful and fanciful forest in which fairies and imps romp, all with the opening and closing of two large canvases. It works beautifully with the piece and adds great value to the production as a whole.

Jose Guzman as Nick Bottom and Alana Michelle. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

For Costume Design, Heather C. Jackson chose to keep it traditional with colorful flowing robes and sashes that work extremely well for this traditional setting. Her design is well thought-out and the ensemble seems comfortable in their wardrobe which helps the overall performance of the piece. It’s apparent she’s familiar with the both the era and the fanciful theme and it shows in her impeccable design.

Gerrad Alex Taylor take the reins as Director of this production and it couldn’t be in better hands. His choice to use a traditional setting is wise and takes everything back to basics. So many companies like to adapt and modernize Shakespeare’s work (which I’m all for), but it’s good to see that the traditional setting still works and works brilliantly. Taylor has a strong comprehension of the material and his whimsical and fantastic vision is clear in every scene. The pacing is on point and the staging is engaging every step of the way. Taylor also takes on double duty as Fight Choreographer and he hits the nail on the head with this aspect, as well. Each fight is finely tuned and exciting making for an overall delightful experience. Kudos to Gerrad Alex Taylor for a superb production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the entire ensemble did their part and performed with 100% effort. It’s easy to see this cast is comfortable with each other and their chemistry is second to none.

Michael Toperzer as Oberon and Elana Michelle as Titania. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Michael Toperzer as Oberon and Elana Michelle as Titania shine in these roles, as well as their takes on the characters of Theseus and Hippolyta. Their interaction with and off of each other draw the audience in and Toperzer and Michelle portray the complex relationship between Oberon and Titania beautifully and with confidence making for intense and engaging performances from both.

Christine Watt as Peaseblossom, Abigail Funk as Cobweb, and Sydney Thomas as Mustardseed are the perfect complement to Elana Michelle’s Titania and these three play their characters to the hilt. They, too, work well with and off of each other to create a tight circle that moves the dialogue and story along nicely. All three actresses are well rehearsed and well suited for their roles.

The story revolves around two couples, mainly, and Nina Marti and Rafael Sebastian portray Hermia and Lysander, the two forbidden lovers. Marti is a firecracker and as the script states, “…she’s fierce, even though she’s little.” and that’s exactly what she is. Marti has a tight grasp on the text and performs it effortlessly while Sebastian, too, portrays Lysander with just the right amount of innocence and a young man’s lust making for commendable performances from both.

The Fairies Dance. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

The other unfortunate couple, Demetrius and Helena, are portrayed brilliantly by Nick Fruit and Kate Forton. Though their characters start out as anything but a couple, through a little bit of magic and luck, they end up happily joined. Fruit plays the uppity Demetrius well with confidence and grand gestures but also understands and does well with the slapstick that is required of the character. Likewise, Forton is stellar in this role. She completely embodies this character and it’s easy to see the love and passion she has for this character and the piece as a whole. She has a strong stage presence and gives a natural, seemingly unscripted performance that makes her a highlight in this production. Fruit and Forton work well off of each other and their timing is flawless making for a delightful and strong performance, overall.

Imani Turner as Puck. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Young Imani Turner, still in high school, tackles the role of Puck, the little trouble making imp who doubles, at times, as narrator of this story. This young actor is a true talent and his instincts and natural ability are apparent as he portrays this comedic character with just enough mischief for him to irritate but with a mix of a bigheartedness, one cannot help but like this character. His delivery and comedic timing is on point and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

The Athens acting troupe, also known as The Rude Mechanicals consist of Colin Connor as Peter Quince, Brenden Edward Kennedy as Francis Flute, Tim Neil as Snug, Owen Halstad as Robin Starveling and the casting of these gents is superb. All of them comedians and the performance of their featured part, the play within a play called Pyramus and Thisby will have you rolling in the isles. It can be seen as the play that goes wrong, and it was one of the most enjoyable moments of theatre I’ve encountered this season. Connor, Kennedy, Neil, and Halstad show off their comedic timing and slapstick abilities impeccably and have the audience roaring with laughter. This crew is certainly a highlight of the production.

Iman Turner as Puck and Michael Toperzer as Oberon. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Another member of this troupe is standout Jose Guzman as Nick Bottom. Seemingly a vain and obtuse character, Guzman plays Nick Bottom to perfection. Guzman has a complete grasp of the text and plays it over the top, but not so over the top as to be annoying… just the right amount. Guzman is a force to be reckoned with onstage with a strong stage presence and a natural comedic ability. You can’t miss him in any scene he is in whether he is speaking or pantomiming in the back and his delivery is spot on. He’s certainly one to watch in this particular production and I can’t wait to see future performances from this actor.

Final thought…A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not a show you want to miss this season. The production is top-notch in every aspect and the setting couldn’t be more picturesque. From the scenery to the staging to the performances, this production of a Shakespeare favorite will not disappoint and makes for an absolutely delightful evening of theatre. The thought and care that went into this performance is apparent and the actors, who are giving 100% of their effort and passion, make this a successful retelling of this classic comedy that will have you doubled over, laughing, and engaged every step of the way. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play through July 29 at The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Rd, Ellicott City, MD 21043. For tickets, call 410-244-8570 or purchase them online.

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Review: Charles Dickens' Great Expectations at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
We are introduced to Charles Dickens at a very early age, especially around the holidays and, namely, Christmas, with his crazy-popular A Christmas Carol (which, incidentally, is the “scary ghost stories” in that Christmas standard “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”… in case you’ve always been wondering) but that is not his only work. Many schools also use his novels in standard curriculum and, as an English major in college, I was yet again exposed to his labors and I’ve got to admit, right here and right now… I was not and am not a fan of Mr. Dickens or his writing, but I do appreciate his stories, which helps… a little.

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

However, that being said, the latest offering at Everyman Theatre, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Adapted by Gale Childs Daly, Directed by Tazewell Thompson, with Set Design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, Lighting Design by Stephen Quandt, Sound Design by Fabian Obispo, and Costume Design by David Burdick has absolutely given me a reason to be a fan and thoroughly enjoy the work of Charles Dickens. Regardless of your familiarity with this tale, you won’t be disappointed with Everyman Theatre’s production.
In a nutshell, Great Expectations (the novel) is a self-narrated coming-of-age story an (abused) orphan named Pip, and his life journey from poverty to wealth, the people with whom he meets and parts ways, some good, some bad, and some in-between, love, lost love, and his inevitable self-realization and humbling.
The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

As I have stated in previous reviews for Everyman Theatre, they never disappoint when it comes to Set Design and Yu-Hsuan Chen pulled out all the stops for this production. Chen’s use of the space is spectacular, giving the actors ample space to move around to keep the action interesting and the attention to detail is second to none. The set alone sets the mood for this piece and the artistry of this faded, derelict setting is superb. Kudos to Yu-Hsuan for a job well done.
The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Lighting Design by Stephen Quandt and Sound Design by Fabian Obispo worked nicely in tandem to create a subtle but effective visual and auditory sensory presentation to move the story along, giving the audience perspective of time and space while not confusing the plot and situations therein.
Pulling together the production side of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is David Burdick’s excellent Costume Design. Designing for a period piece can be challenging but Burdick really has a grasp on the Dickens era and his design is spot on and authentic, adding great value to the production as a whole.
(l to r) Drew Kopas, Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, and Franchelle Stewart Dorn.  Credit: ClintonBPhotography

(l to r) Drew Kopas, Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Taking an old classic and making it new for new audiences is tough, especially when it comes to Charles Dickens stories or anything in stuffy, staunch Dickens/Victorian era, really, but Tazewell Thompson takes the reigns and masterfully weaves this for a 21st century audience without really changing the setting or the story, but giving it a fresh look by getting back to basics of story-telling. Thompson gives us a mix of broken-fourth-wall story-telling and re-enactment that meshes perfectly to tell this story in a way that is easy to follow and understand. I will admit, at first, it took a moment to get into the rhythm of this mix but once you are settled in and connect with these storytellers, the story unfolds effortlessly. More importantly, Thompson seems to really understand these characters and their objectives, moving them smoothly through the story.  Working with Gale Childs Daly’s able adaptation, Thompson gives us an entertaining, accessible piece that makes for a genuinely enjoyable evening of theatre.
(l to r) Drew Kopas and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

(l to r) Drew Kopas and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The ensemble work in this piece is outstanding and all of these actors work well with each other and play various roles to tell this tale. Gerrad Alex Taylor and Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, listed as Narrator #2 and Narrator #4 in the program, respectively, also take on the very important roles of Pips friends such as Herbert, Pip’s ever faithful friend and confidant (played by Taylor) and Estelle, Pip’s love interest and main inspiration for acquiring a higher status in life (played by Jernigan). Taylor’s portrayal of Herbert makes him a very likable character and Jernigan plays Estelle with a coldness and bitterness befitting of the character and her presentation of the character’s change is authentic and heartwarming. Both of these actors are very comfortable with their characters and give admirable performances.
Drew Kopas as Pip is charming as he takes his character from boyhood to adulthood. It is easy to connect with this character from the start and Kopas keeps that connection with the audience throughout the entire production. His subtle voice and manner change as Pip grows and journeys through life is quite impressive giving the feel of this young man growing up right before our eyes. Taking on the main character of this piece, Kopas gives an outstanding and intelligent performance that is to be commended.
(l to r) Gerrad Alex Taylor and Brit Herring. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

(l to r) Gerrad Alex Taylor and Brit Herring. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Brit Herring as Joe is absolutely heart-warming. In the program, he is listed simply as Narrator #5 but, like his cohorts, he tackles multiple roles in this piece but his portrayal as Joe, Pip’s warm and loving brother-in-law, is stellar. His ability to switch between completely different characters and keep them separate makes his performance a joy to watch.
Among the talented and dedicated ensemble, Bruce Randolph Nelson and Franchelle Stewart Dorn are definite highlights.
Bruce R. Nelson and Drew Kopas. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce R. Nelson and Drew Kopas. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce Randolph Nelson (an Everyman Theatre Resident Company Member) is listed as Narrator #1 but also takes on the role of Magwitch, a raw, crude convict who happens to run into a very young and helpful Pip and he absolutely nails this character both in physicality and vocality. He also gives a brilliant performance in the role of Uncle Pumblechook, who has a part in moving Pip along during his journey. Unlike the sloth-like, slow, heavy character described in the novel, Nelson makes the choice to take this character in another humorous and flamboyant direction that is making for an undoubtedly successful performance.
Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Miss Havisham. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Miss Havisham. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Franchelle Stewart Dorn is credited as Narrator #3 but takes on the very important roles of Mrs. Joe, Pip’s much older sister, and Miss Havisham, the bitter, jilted, and wealthy old lady who lives in the very large house down the street. Dorn is an absolute pleasure to watch. As Mrs. Joe, she’s forceful, crude, and loud, as the character requires and as Miss Havisham, she oozes bitterness and contempt, but Dorn manages to get the audience to pity this character she embodies. It’s worth noting, I could listen to this woman talk for hours. Dorn’s voice is smooth and booming as it resonates through the entire theatre and every word is crystal clear allowing for an impressive and superb performance.
Final thought…Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at Everyman Theatre is a brand new take on an old classic. It’s refreshing, entertaining, and accessible that it opens up to a new generation that may have otherwise let it sit on the bookshelf to collect dust. This adaptation handles the many subplots and twists beautifully with a perfect blend of old-fashioned story-telling and re-enactment while the production itself is well thought-out and the impeccable casting of a very capable ensemble make this a show you want to check out. Whether you’re familiar with Charles Dickens’ work or not and whether you’re a fan or not, this production will introduce you to this story either again or for the first time with a fresh and energizing telling.
This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations will play through March 5 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.
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