Perhaps that headline made you think, Oh no, not Midsummer Night’s Dream again. But seeing Shakespeare’s Athenian woodland fantasy in an actual park, among the trees and grass with an urban soundscape and the occasional barking dog, is a special treat and beyond similar stage fare.
Midsommer Flight celebrates its 10th anniversary season with an excellent free production of Shakespeare’s magical, musical rom-com in five Chicago city parks this summer. We were fortunate to see it on its first weekend showing in Lincoln Park on a perfect Sunday afternoon. (Perfect for me means cloudy and cool.)
Midsommer Flight performs in natural sunlight and without amplified sound, just as in the Bard’s day four centuries ago. Beth Wolf’s sharp direction, talented cast and script adaptation brings Dream in at about 100 minutes with no intermission. (The original runs about three hours.)
One of Shakespeare’s early plays (1594-95), Midsummer Night’s Dream is the story of three pairs of lovers (one royal and two noble) whose romances get tangled when they encounter fairies in the woods outside Athens. Theseus and Hippolyta (Joshua Pennington and Meredith Ernst) are the royal pair and they double as Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies. Hermia and Lysander (Alice Wu and Richard Eisloeffel), and Helena and Demetrius (Koshie Mills and Manny Sevilla) are the other two couples.
Puck, one of Shakespeare’s most lovable characters, helps Oberon create trouble by flying around the world to find magical flowers to squirt into the eyes of sleeping lovers and thus change the object of their love. Puck gets his targets mixed up and now Lysander no longer loves Hermia; Demetrius prefers Helena, although he was ready to fight to marry Hermia. And Titania falls in love with—well, if you’ve seen this before, you know who she adores. Ebby Offord’s delightful Puck is a sly charmer.
The subplot and play-within-a-play are provided by the “rude mechanicals,” six Athenian artisans, who decide (with no knowledge of theater) that they will create a play as entertainment for the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. The play is titled “The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.” (The plot will remind you of Romeo and Juliet gone wrong.)
The artisans’ names are archaic plays on their occupations. They are Barry Irving as Peter Quince, the carpenter and organizer; Jack Morsovillo as Nick Bottom, the weaver; Travis Shanahan as Francis Flute, the bellows-mender; Hannah Mary Simpson as Snug, the joiner; Elizabeth McAnulty Quilter as Tom Snout, a tinker; and Kat Zheng as Starveling, a tailor. The mechanicals all perform multiple roles as musicians, fairies and characters in the Pyramus and Thisby tale.
You won’t be surprised to know that all turns out happily at the end with three weddings conducted. But first the mechanicals must present their play with all in costume (no prologue, please), while the nobles watch and comment. The highlights are the Wall, performed by Quilter, and Simpson’s fiercely friendly Lion. The mechanicals think that Moonlight must be literal, so Zheng appears with a lantern.
Midsummer Night’s Dream offers many of those marvelous Shakespearean quotes. For instance, Lysander observes, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Dream is also the source of that quote applied to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Here, Helena says it of Hermia: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Puck ends the play by telling us, “If we shadows have offended / Think but this, and all is mended. / That you have but slumbered here / While these visions did appear.”
Scenic and props design is by Nina Castillo-D’Angier with costumes by Lily Walls. Composer and music director is Justin Cavazos. Stage manager is Hazel Marie Flowers-McCabe.
Midsommer Flight will once again stage a holiday-season Shakespeare production at the Lincoln Park Conservatory in December. This year’s play will be Twelfth Night, which the company has produced annually since 2015 (except for 2020). Here’s our review of Twelfth Night from 2019.
Midsommer Flight will perform Midsummer Night’s Dream through August 21 in five city parks. Performances are at 6pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Reservations are not required. Seating is first come, first served, and audience members can bring their own blankets or chairs.
- July 22, 23, 24 @ Gross Park (2708 W. Lawrence, 60625)
- July 29, 30, 31 @ Lincoln Park (Stockton Drive between Dickens and Armitage, 60614)
- August 5, 6, 7 @ Lake Meadows Park (3117 S. Rhodes Ave., Chicago, IL 60616)
- August 12, 13, 14 @ Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens (1801 S. Indiana Ave., 60616).
- August 19, 20, 21 @ Touhy Park (7348 N. Paulina, 60626)
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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