Review: Romping in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

 John Zak and Eleni Delopoulos in Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' (Photo courtesy of Kendall Whitehouse)

John Zak and Eleni Delopoulos in Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' (Photo courtesy of Kendall Whitehouse)

Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s current rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a good romp, just as it should be. It’s a typical production from the stage company — without the showy trimmings that a bigger-budget theater might offer, but with a clear grasp of the text and the tone.

The company’s artistic director, Carmen Khan, has judiciously edited the script. She’s removed the dialogue of four forest sprites, a part of the text that gets in the way of the action in many productions. Instead, the forest queen commands two figures, silent and black-clad head to toe, with eerie fingertips of colored lights. Shakespeare’s woods, where the midsummer night’s dream among two couples evolves, is supposed to be scary and magical; here, on a simple open set by Bethanie Wampol, the scariness comes from high-pitched musical sounds by composer Fabian Obispo and the magic’s provided by different characters tossing little flickers of light at one another.

I can’t explain how they do it and they’re smartly not telling, but they toss and catch these little colored lights without anything ever visibly leaving anyone’s hand. It’s not only effective, it’s fantastical — what more could Shakespeare himself ask?

Well, in the acting department he might ask for a little lower pitch because here in the wild, the shouting sometimes overcomes the words. Furthermore, this is a highly physical production for the four young people whose spells make them unlike themselves, and the all that racing around muddies some of the text.

Overall, though, the four Athenian kids addled by love and ancient Greek law (Jenna Kuerzi, Jessica Giannone, Josh Kachnycz and Arlen Hancock) bring it all off with admirable oomph. Brian Anthony Wilson, always a forceful figure on stage, plays the duke and also the king of forest spirits, and Eleni Delopoulos is the duke’s betrothed and also the forest queen. The irrepressible imp, Puck, whose careless spell sets the play in motion, is Melissa Dunphy. She flits gleefully around the stage and uses the production’s only British accent, which in this case blurs some of what she says.

Michael Gamache is the leader of the tradesmen who put on a dreadful play for the duke and his court, about the ill-fated lovers Pyramus and Thisbee. John Zak plays Bottom, the buffoon who stars in this shenanigan and also figures into the main plot. I’ve seen funnier renditions of thisplay-within-a-play, but I’m not going to rev up the laff-meter to make comparisons — this version, which comes at the play’s end, sends you out smiling.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” produced by Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, runs through May 17 at the company’s stage on Sansom Street between 21st and 22d Streets. 215-496-8001 or www.phillyshakespeare.org.

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