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Midsummer in December

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is a sure-footed and wonderfully acted delight

Can the love of Hermia (Cori Deverse) and Lysandra (Emily Saletan) survive the mischief of the fairies? Photo credit: Pavlina Morris

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By far one of William Shakespeare's most popular plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream -- as its name might suggest -- carries with it a loopy, humid feel, befitting its summer solstice setting. It's a bit of a treat, then, to see the Changing Scene Theatre Northwest stage this show as we're nearing winter, so we get to bask in its warmth.

Even those who've never seen the play will likely have at least a passing familiarity with its story, but for those that are late to the party, A Midsummer Night's Dream concerns unrequited love and a couple of fairies who brazenly manipulate people's affections. For the Changing Scene Theatre's production, director Pavlina Morris has gender-swapped a couple of roles, subtly and cleverly lending the material a queer bent, while helping to alleviate some of the more problematic elements of the story.

Four days before the royal Theseus and Hippolyta (Nick Fitzgerald and Marsha Walner) are to marry, Theseus' daughter Hermia (Cori Deverse) arrives, along with Lysandra and Demetrius (Emily Saletan and Ton Williams), who are both vying for Hermia's affections. Hermia loves Lysandra and spurns Demetrius' advances, while the swooning Helena is similarly being rebuffed by Demetrius. One night, as Hermia and Lysandra meet in the woods to elope, pursued by Helena and Demetrius, they are happened upon by King and Queen of the fairies Oberon and Titania (Fitzgerald and Walner, again), as well as the mischievous Puck (Jill Heinecke).

The rest of the play is a kind of comedy of errors, with the four lovers being manipulated by the fairies in various configurations. There's also the matter of a lousy traveling theater troupe that hovers around the edges of the main story, though their significance is eventually revealed. Whenever the fairies are involved, the stage lights are extinguished, leaving the actors illuminated only by glow-in-the-dark face paint and props, which effectively creates a dreamlike atmosphere.

All of the actors involved acquit themselves quite nicely, though I was particularly impressed with Deverse and Saletan, who share a very natural chemistry that sells the romance of the play. Fitzgerald, Walner and Heinecke also have a delightful interplay, and Laurice Roberts is hilarious as one of the traveling actors who unfortunately runs afoul of the fairies.

My only big issue with the play is one that's been analyzed and debated for centuries, which would be the play-within-a-play that comes near the end. Far be it for me to critique Shakespeare's writing (I hear the guy wrote some good ones), but whether the scene was meant as Shakespeare providing meta-commentary for his own play, or whether he was just indulging in a flight of fancy, for me it just clashed with the tone of the rest of the show.

On the whole, though, this is a remarkably sure-footed and enjoyable show from the Changing Scene Theatre Northwest. A Midsummer Night's Dream is smartly produced, wonderfully acted, and a welcome respite from the doldrums of winter.

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