The first thing you should know about the new Shakespeare play currently onstage at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Redfield Studio is that it’s fun.
Look, I know. Shakespeare ain’t always fun. As a writer who was formally trained in English literature, I certainly respect the Bard, but I’ll be the first to admit that his plays are usually hard to understand, full of long scenes in which very little seems to happen. But let me assure you that’s not the case with the UNR Department of Theatre & Dance’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In fact, I’ll go one better: It’s one of the best directed, best cast, funniest, and most enjoyable local shows I’ve seen.
Director Rosie Brownlow-Calkin chose Midsummer for a number of reasons. First, it’s a comedy, which is what we all need these days. It contains everything — slapstick, beautiful poetry, love stories, interesting ideas about government and gender relations, mischief, and magic. It’s also one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays — the runtime is under two hours, with no intermission to slow down the brisk pacing. The time flies.
The story opens on the eve of the marriage between Theseus, the duke of Athens (played by Kavin Sivakumar), and Amazonian queen Hippolyta (Ilyana Hobson). But Egeus (Thomas Bosworth), a member of Theseus’ court, remains agitated. His daughter, Hermia (Kaya Miles), won’t comply with his demand that she marry Demetrius (Nick Farro); she is head over heels for Lysander (Jayton Newbury). Rather, it’s Hermia’s friend Helena (Alexis Pedote) who loves Demetrius, but he only has eyes for Hermia. Hermia and Lysander cook up a plan to escape from Athens and marry.
Meanwhile, the forest is abuzz with excitement about the duke’s pending nuptials. A motley troupe of amateur actors organized (a term I use loosely) by Peter Quince (Thomas Rao), a carpenter with literary aspirations, have designs on performing an original play for the duke and his new duchess. And in the fairy realm, Oberon (James Mardock), the king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania (Abby Rosen), are having a spat. Oberon enlists his sprite Puck (Tully Rose) to play a trick on her; a sprinkle of nectar from a nearby magical flower onto Titania’s eyes will cause her to fall in love with the first object she sees — which in this case ends up being Bottom (Sam Crabtree), one of the amateur actors, to whom Puck has given the head of an ass.
Inspired by the success of his trick on Titania, Oberon employs Puck to work this same flower magic on the Hermia/Lysander/Helena/Demetrius situation, which only confuses this lovers’ quadrangle.
Somehow, all of this mischief and misunderstanding must be resolved in time for the joyous wedding day. And it will, while also making your sides hurt from laughing.
In this story in which Oberon says, “I am invisible” and then it becomes so, Shakespeare is banking on the power of imagination, and Brownlow-Calkin takes that a step further. Zero dollars were invested in sets or costumes; actors wear nothing but what they or the university already own, and the stage is a blank slate. The show’s success relies purely on the actors’ talent, great direction, and the power of imagination, all of which demonstrates — as if we needed proof — the incredible power of live, in-the-flesh theater.
The depth of talent here across the board is remarkable, from the comedic genius of Sam Crabtree’s Bottom and Thomas Rao’s Quince to Tully Rosa’s delightfully spirited Puck, to the seriously impressive dramatic and vocal work showcased by Abby Rosen as Titania. Even the smallest of roles shine. The results are a testament not only to their talent but to inspired direction from Brownlow-Calkin that breathes new life and meaning into the centuries-old script.
This UNR production is the stuff of dreams — be sure to catch it before it’s gone.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues this weekend at UNR’s Redfield Studio Theatre with performances Nov. 10, 12 + 13 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15, $5 for students. Ticket and info here.
Cover image: Hermia (Kaya Miles), wants to marry Lysander (Jayton Newbury) for love. We ask you: What could go wrong? Photo: Isaac Hoops for The Nevada Sagebrush