Dallas Theater Center embarked October 30 on its new venture at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas’ Arts District with a visually stunning, hyper-kinetic take on William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mostly an adaptation that uses the Shakespeare classic as a launch pad, it sometimes felt like High School Musical meets Hair. Director Kevin Moriarty adorned the sumptuous, austere cavern of a performance space with wall graffiti a la Basquiat on monumental scale, chalked on progressively by a spry slew of Booker T. Washington high school students, representing Titania’s fairies. By the play’s 2nd act euphoric nuptial conclusion, filled with cascading balloons, soap bubbles and cast members crooning pop and rap-style songs (tuneful and entertaining), the walls were awash in crayola-hued tones and the audience surged onstage to join in. I half expected to hear “Let the Sunshine In.”
No, this is not your college English teacher’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A definite downer for traditionalists or purists, it was a hit with the opening night audience. I’m not sure how some audience members felt about actors crawling over them, aisle by aisle, or treading across the backs of their seats, or how they felt about getting sprayed with nerf balls in the “battle scene” between Oberon and Titania’s graffiti minions or getting soaked by Oberon’s giant water gun. Everyone else enjoyed watching the “by-sitters” squirm under assault.
Expository, illustrative sections of text and key plot elements are eliminated, perhaps in favor of maintaining warp-speed pace and entertainment value for today’s audience. Sometimes the “battle between the sexes” between the young lovers lost in the Athenian forest (never present in any visual way) looked like an extreme gym workout with non-stop yelled conversation. Subtlety, even delicacy, normally exists in this play, if not this production.
Matthew Steven Tompkins as a regal, commanding Oberon in Bruce Springsteen-like costume with mesmerizing vocal power and tone delivered a strong performance, as did lithe Cedric Neal as his mischievous sidekick Puck. Neal made frequent “amends” with his delectable singing voice. The audience hit of the show was Chamblee Ferguson, excelling with a virtuoso, over the top performance as “rude mechanical” Nick Bottom. Turned into an “ass” by Oberon’s magic marker, he’s also the hammy hero of the play within the play. Such clever, inventive ways to die may have never graced an improvisation class, particularly the symbolic sawing off of all extremities with a soft rubber sword. The audience roared their approval.
Stunning, surprising visuals, exhilarating displays of speed ladder-climbing, superbly sung and danced musical numbers, all wedded to one of Shakespeare’s most revered romantic comedies—it added up to a resplendent hit for Dallas Theater Center’s inaugural performance in the Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre. Consider bringing a raincoat if seated close to the stage.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through Nov. 22 at Wyly Theatre, AT&T Performing Arts Center, 2400 Flora St., Dallas TX. This production is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest.
For tickets, 214-880-0202, http://www.dallastheatercenter.org