Onstage: Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Cincinnati Shakespeare's 'Midsummer' in midwinter is mad, merry fun

Distinguished Shakespearean scholar Harold Bloom calls A Midsummer Night's Dream "a wise and humane drama." Exactly. In the hands of 20 loons and lovely lunatics on stage at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Will's sweet wisdom and leavening humanity are emphatically on view.

But wait! There's more. Without losing track of the play's poetry or its quicksilver philosophy, they also make it gracefully, laugh-'til-you-ache funny.

Plot: Four young lovers go head-to-head with authority, then gambol off to an enchanted wood where they tangle with meddlesome fairies and stumble across some craftsmen-turned-actors who are booked to entertain at a wedding. It all gets strange and complicated, then erupts with happily ever after.

In any respectable production, Midsummer's six "mechanicals" generate laughter with their comical tragedy of Pyramus (an inspired Chris Guthrie as Nick Bottom) and Thisbe (Giles Davies in 1940s drag). That's expected, and these guys exceed expectations. Unique in my experience, however, is a production in which the moon-smacked lovers perform with the slapstick precision and speedy glee of experienced vaudevillians. Alex Brooks, Hayley Clark, Sara Clark and Derrick Ledbetter are the worthy lot who all but out-funny the comedians.

Sherman Fracher is a delectably demented fairy queen in love with an ass. Exhale Dance Tribe members, choreographed by Missy Lay Zimmer, more writhe than dance as the fairies. Will Turbyne created a handsome forest set, and Sara Watson lit it subtly. Heidi Jo Schiemer dressed the mortals in Macy's modern and the fairies in fairy froth.

Inexplicably, directors Todd Douglas and Brian Phillips decided to turn summer into winter when the lovers hit the woods. A metaphor? A counterpoint? The falling snow effect is very pretty, but once it registers, everyone more or less forgets it. Whatever point was meant gets run down by the hard-charging fun. Grade: A+

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT´S DREAM, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Jan. 6.

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