A Midsummer Night's Dream; Hamner Theater; Through June 27

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Afton’s Hamner Theatre continues the local Bard-a-thon by presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream squarely on the heels of Live Arts’ Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, which arrived soon after Four County Players’ Othello; not to mention the ongoing work of Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center. A Midsummer Night’s Dream might be an overrated script, even for Shakespeare, but its lack of depth might be its charm.

The Hamner Theater reimagines the Shakespeare classic in the land of assembly line lunches and football uniforms. Local theater veteran John Holdren voices Bottom, the witless actor who finds love only after transforming into an ass.

Here, the setting is a high school, so the young lovers are football players and cheerleaders, while the rude mechanicals are janitors and lunch ladies; an interesting idea. This creates odd moments, as when the characters say their names and their occupations: “I, Nick Bottom, the weaver,” when we can plainly see he is a school custodian. And what do Oberon and Titania do there?

Titania’s (April Winsheimer) brood of faeries is played entirely by children. They flutter about, festooned with necktie ribbons, and are entertaining because, well, they are kids. 

The four star-crossed (and uncrossed and recrossed) lovers are all played by teens, as are Puck (Megan Schultz) and Flute/Thisbe (DJ Crocker). As Lysander, Colin Bruguiere proves to be a promising actor. Hermia (Sami Cunningham) and Helena (Noel Quigley) are also strong. DJ Crocker is an apt Thisbe in the never-fail final scene. I look forward to more work from them all.

The rest are adults, including Oberon (Richard Averitt), Hippolyta (Puja Tolton) and Theseus (Dan Trombley). John Holdren, playing Bottom and Pyramus from within a pillow-stuffed Dickies coverall, is the centerpiece and delivers an energetic portrayal.

The stage is set up as a thrust, which means that the audience sits on three sides of the performance space. Directing on a thrust stage is challenging. Often, the actors are unsure where they are supposed to be, so they wander and it’s distracting.

There are uncomfortable moments: Titania seductively straddling an assified Bottom while children look on; Demetrius and Helena actually making out on the sidelines, thus upstaging whatever the hell was happening in the scene. At one point, Holdren breaks into a rap. Huh? It takes us right out of the momentum. There are enough of these moments to leave viewers wondering if there shouldn’t have been a few extra rehearsals to add some prescriptive polish.

Now, before the flame wars begin, I understand that this production was likely germinated by a group of friends who wanted to do something fun and theatrical with their kids. And indeed it is fun on what must be less than a shoestring budget. I enjoyed seeing teens acting like mature adults and adults acting like foolish children. If you feel that even reviewing a production which was created under those terms is against the spirit of the thing, much like critiquing a child’s birthday party, I concede. 

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