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Seed Art Share provided the play and Raleigh Little Theatre provided the backdrop as the two combined to present Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream in Raleigh's famed Rose Garden, hidden away behind the Stephenson Amphitheatre on the RLT grounds.
Seed Art Share began in 2010 with a mission to provide support for Triangle artists and their families. The group supplies theatre and education programming for young children, as well as interactive shows that allow participation by the audience in the play presented. For this production, directors Ian Finley and Sue Scarborough have whittled the play down to a scant 95 minutes, being as they are restricted by nightfall and the lack of any electrical lighting. As the play progresses and nightfall nears, the group provides their own lighting in the form of high beam flashlights.
Providing some preshow music and a rollicking soundtrack to the play is a trio of multitalented musicians: Nick Johnson, Peter Vance, and Jake Waits give a fine backdrop to the show using guitar, violin, drums, and vocals.
As Shakespeare himself wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth," and smooth is not a word that could be used to describe this production. Bound as they are by time constraints, far too much of the play has been deleted, leaving only the skeletal remains of the several pairs of lovers and the "play" presented by the mechanicals. But even that seemed to be too much for the key players. Far too many lines were flubbed and far too many characters were underdeveloped. Benn May as Oberon, for example, played the entire show on one note, that of a blustering bully. He covered most of his actions with a hollow laughter and was far more concerned with keeping the horns on his head than with keeping his head on his character.
Regarding the four Lovers, the biggest problem they had was handling the physicality of their roles on top of the language. Director Ian Finley has given them such acrobatic blocking that it took away from the language. Since the Lovers are the very crux of the play, this was detrimental. The mercurial changes that Demetrius and Lysander go through and the consternation that it causes Helena and Hermia was lost. As a result, lines came out singsong and the characters remained singularly flat. Laura Levine* as Hermia did not seem to realize the severity of the trouble she was in with her parent Egeus and Duke Theseus. Lysander (George Labusohr) and Demetrius (Ryan Ladue) seemed perennially clueless. Meanwhile, poor Helena (Jess Barbour*) couldn’t avoid being crushed by the battling boys. The clownish physicality seemed more of a distraction from, rather than an addition to, the play.
Even the veterans of theatre in the show seemed to be less than ready for opening night. Nan Stephenson as Egeus confused her fellows and the audience when she called Demetrius Lysander, and then turned to Lysander and repeated the name. Even Brent Wilson as Theseus had a difficult time with his lines opening night.
In contrast, two characters seemed true, with steady lines and solid characters. Sarah Winter as Titania was regal as well as spritely, easily handling her entourage and the changes she had to go through with Bottom and Oberon. Tim Cherry was the epitome of the perfect servant as Philostrate, servant to the king. His busy fuss setting the table for the king's breakfast was priceless. Finally, the scads of young children presenting the sprites were quick, agile, and fun loving in their roles. They would as a group have something to teach the elders of the cast.
In total, the first performance of Seed Art Share and RLT's co-production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was not up to the usual RLT standards. Even so, the show is already sold out for the duration of its run. Unfortunately, on opening night, the play seemed to be not so much a dream as it was a nightmare.
A Midsummer Night's Dream continues through Sunday, June 7. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.
*Names corrected on 8/4/15 -ed