Over the weekend, the BGSU Department of Theater and Film put on the most-staged Shakespeare play: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And the centuries-old, magical comedy has never been better.
As the play is the most-staged of Shakespeare's works, there is a challenge in making the production unique. And director Heidi Nees has done just that with a production that does not go for surface-level changes, but uses artistic discretion with pinpoint accuracy.
Instead of typical Shakespearean costuming, the production opts for a look that is more akin to the late 19th century than the 15th. While changes like this have been a cliché in adaptations of Shakespeare's work for decades, this choice had a very important effect that actually adds to the performance. For after the lovers, played wonderfully by Anna Randazzo, Anna Thompson, Sherry White and Zachary Davis, escape to the mystical forest, their drab and simplistic 19th-century garbs are contrasted perfectly against the timeless and magical costumes of the forest creatures.
Said magical creatures are wonderfully performed as well. As always, in productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Puck, the mischievous spirit who accidentally creates a circle of romantic confusion, played by Anna Parchem, stands out as dynamic and fluid. But that is not to discount the commanding and charismatic performances of Coniyah McKinney as Oberon or Kayleigh Hahn as Titania. And of course, the spirits of the forest would not be complete without the comedic chorus of fairies played enchantingly by Lorna Patterson, Mikey Ragusa, Shannon Bingham and Stephanie Christopher.
The choice to change the time period also helps to distinguish settings perfectly. The minimalistic and modern backgrounds of the court work as a perfect counterbalance to the colorful and whimsical forest. And as the lovers and their families retreat back to Athens when the play is over, one almost misses the colorful production found in the forest.
The second narrative in the comedy, surrounding the rude mechanicals putting on their play of “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the lovers in Athens, also offers some fun takes on the source material. A joke set up early in the play about how the actors are going to speak through a wall is paid off in one of the most satisfying and original ways possible.
The play that the mechanicals put on is not only a very fitting and heartwarming tribute to the stage, but also adds a level of commentary on the events surrounding the lover's pursuits of one another and even the play itself. Because, even though the play in the end is mostly funny, the ending monologue, performed excellently by Michael Cuschieri as Flute, where Thisbe bemoans the suicide of her lover, moves not only the lovers who were mostly laughing at the players but the audience as well.
At the end of the play, when all the major characters are dancing their troubles away after the performance, one revels in the great humanity and heart put into the production. It is beautiful that centuries after a play is written, a small group of talented actors and craftsmen were able to still draw tears of laughter and sadness from the masses.
BGSU’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a unique performance of the absurdity and magic found in love on the stage and in reality.