A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Shelly Gaza. Produced by Phamaly Theatre Company (Presented at the Kilstrom Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through September 2. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or phamaly.org.
Shelly Gaza makes her debut as Director with Phamaly in a tight delightful, abbreviated version of the classic comedy. Some scenes have been rearranged and shortened to add emphasis to the comic aspects of the story. The four main story lines – the dust up between King and Queen that starts the whole fairy dust in the eyes plot; the confused lovers in the forest; the tricks that Puck manages to mess up and pull off; and the play within the play of Thisbe and Pyramus by the Mechanicals – are given clear concise and a charming retelling. Because of this clarity, this would be a perfect way to introduce Shakespeare to the young people in your life. They would learn the lesson of inclusivity that Phamaly teaches by just existing as well as learning that Shakespeare is funny.
Not only is the length and the language somewhat abbreviated, but they also perform in a stylish and compact set designed by Nicholas Renaud. Three-dimensional movable trees and bushes provided the forest enhanced by three gorgeous hanging tree branch-like chandeliers. These worked well to be rolled off and on for the outdoor scenes. The indoor environment was created with ornate benches and a stunning double throne for the Royal Court. It was fun to listen to the various animal sounds provided by Sound Designer Sam Morin as the lovers wandered in the forest. If the goal of the Lighting Designer is to provide mood and visibility without being obtrusive, then Designer W. Alejandro Melendez succeeded. Costume Designer Tim Cortez enhanced the Roaring Twenties theme of the evening with his sparkly fringy gowns for the women and his top hatted elegance for the men. The one exception was the costumes provided for Titania/ Hippolyta worn by Maggie Whittum. Neither of them seemed to denote the royalty she represented.
This is a cast well-schooled in the linguistics and logic of the story being told. They tackle it with gusto and come out triumphant. Each player pulls their own weight and brings their own specialness to their role. The Royals are played by B. Ryan Glick and Ms. Whittum with appropriate solemnity and the dignity befitting their station. That is until they revert to their second roles as King and Queen in the fairy world. King Theseus turning into Oberon becomes more comical and mean-spirited in his demands upon Puck, his loyal sprite. Hippolyta becoming Titania is more gullible and easily manipulated with the help of a little fairy dust.
The four lovers who keep switching partners and falling in and out of love with each other gets brilliant treatment in the hands of these talented actors. Demetrius and Lysander played by Graham Bryant and Keenan Gluck become confused, determined and heartfelt all at the same time. The actresses playing Hermia and Helena – Kennedy Isaac and Madison Stout – go from being besties to screaming at each other in anger and confusion. It’s perversely kind of funny to see women go at each other, but these ladies brought out all the humor in the situation. All’s well that ends well when the fairy dust wears off.
The workers from the town that want to win favor with the King on his wedding day make great sport of preparing for and presenting a mythic tale to the Royal Court and the audience. Their merry band is made up of Goofy Cunningham, River Hetzel, Laurice Quinn and Eli Schroeder, led by Ratt Walsh as the infamous Nick Bottom who is convinced, he could play all the parts simultaneously. They are accompanied by Trusty the Barker, a retired guide dog making his second appearance on the Phamaly stage.
There are people born to be on stage. It is a DNA feature that is with them in the womb, but usually has nothing to do with what Mom and Dad liked to do. It is in their bones, their muscles, in the ease with which they move, the grace inherent in their soul. When they walk on the stage, playing a lead or a silent role, you can’t take your eyes off of them. They speak the words trippingly without being schooled in how to do it. They are often athletic, possess a singing voice that can bring you to tears and feet that can remember multiple tap routines. I can name perhaps a dozen of those kinds of performers here in Denver. One is in this show. Her name is Emma Maxwell and she as Puck and the singing minstrel Philostrate becomes the heart of the show. The comfort she shows on stage; the ease with which she changes mood; her humor expressed with a look, a grimace, even an invisible wink to let the audience know she knows what’s going on . . . you can’t learn that. You are born with it. Her entrance at the top of Act II with a guitar and an appropriate rock song stops you cold. Her Puck is . . . well, puckish, cute, mischievous, and fun. She pulls us into the fun with her. I can’t wait to see what she does next. I just hope it’s in Colorado.
Those of you who have seen a Phamaly show will delight in this one, their first Shakespeare. Those of you who haven’t seen a Phamaly show will be delighted with the professionalism, talent and determination of these players. The thing you WON’T be is disappointed.
A WOW factor of 8.75!!
FOOTNOTE: Sam’s No. 3 is a sponsor of this performance. I coincidentally took myself to lunch at Sam’s just yesterday and had the pleasure of ordering from their Shakespearean themed menu which returns 20% to the organization. There is a Sam’s only two blocks from the theatre; go there for dinner before the show. You’ll get a good meal for a reasonable price and have the pleasure of donating to your host for the evening.