By Larry Laneer
August 1, 2021
What a joy it is to behold a stage of mask-less actors. You can catch this phenomenon now in a vastly uneven production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Oklahoma Shakespeare (formerly Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park).
The company has opened a new performance venue called Oklahoma Shakespeare Gardens behind its Paseo location. It’s an outdoor stage with a slightly sloping lawn where audience members can set up blankets or lawn chairs. Oklahoma Shakespeare encourages picnicking and BYOB. The space has an intimate charm and recalls the company’s nascence. It’s a miniature version of Edmond’s Hafer Park where the company began in 1985. Other improvements also have been made with a renovated indoor theater opening later and, equally important, more restrooms. The acoustics are pretty good, and directors will continue to figure how best to use the space.
The director Kathryn McGill gives this production a modernish setting with pop music, modern acting, and contemporary costumes (by Chloe Mullin), except for the fairies. Oberon looks like a goth sailing ship, and the fairies wear unfortunate tutus in green and lime green. I’m not sure how to describe Puck, except to say they sport a black porkpie-like hat with eye goggles.
Matthew Alvin Brown plays Theseus and Oberon, surprisingly in his first work with Oklahoma Shakespeare and reportedly his first Shakespeare ever. Not surprisingly, Brown gives a fine, coolly restrained performance. His Oberon comes off as the benign leader of a hippie commune as much as king of the fairies.
Nikki Mar, who won fans last year as Juliet, plays Hermia opposite Bell Reeves as Helena. Together, they provide high points of the show. Both can be convincingly indignant and love struck in turn. Their love interests are played by Josue Dooley as Lysander and Austin Lewis as Demetrius in strong performances.
Levi Hawkins shows real promise as Puck. I’d like to see this young actor in more and different roles.
The always solid Mariah Warren is Hippolyta and Titania, but she seems underused here. Michael Page is commanding as Egeus and timorous as Snout. Nicholas Bartell, Justin Marlow, and Andrea Beasley play double roles, all fine.
Then, we have Doug Brown as Nick Bottom. First, it’s great to see him on stage again. You can see why McGill would cast him as Bottom. Brown can play comedy with universal appeal and here wins over the audience from his first lines on stage. But then, things go terribly wrong.
McGill does a fine job keeping the play moving often at a farcical pace. That is, until the production bogs down late in the second act during the performance by the “rude mechanicals” of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the play-within-a-play. As Bottom, Doug Brown does a death scene by pantomiming Grand Guignol in which he chomps the scenery, regurgitates it, gnaws it some more, and, then, does the same thing over again stage right. At this point, he’s about a third of the way through the scene. This interminable stoppage of action drew heckling from the audience at the reviewed performance. Alas, McGill and Brown forgot the old show business admonishment to leave the audience wanting more.
We’re still in a grace period with theater. It’s been so long since theatergoers have been in the room where it happens (please forgive the Hamilton reference) under normal, mask-less conditions, so we appreciate any competent, live performance. Oklahoma Shakespeare and other companies are doing their best to restart theater season under safe conditions for casts, crews, and audiences. Goodness knows theatergoers appreciate their efforts.
|A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, through August 15
Oklahoma Shakespeare Gardens
405-235-3700 or www.okshakes.org