CEDAR HILLS — On a evening before the first days of summer under absolutely perfect weather conditions I had the fortune of sitting on a gently sloping grassy hillside and watching one of my favorite works by our old pal, the iambic king himself, Willie (a.k.a. William Shakespeare). A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wild, romping journey through a fairy-and-sprite-filled mystical landscape. In the hands of an adept theater troupe this text is capable of making even the most abject theater yawner joyfully hysterical.
The fledgling Creekside Theatre Festival troupe has currently found a home on the bank of a swollen stream in Cedar Hills, at a seemingly long abandoned, two-step Ampitheaterlette. Patrons of this group parked in a small gravel lot, or along a street and walked a little marked path to the secluded spot. There among tall, centenarian trees a simple set of a few steps leading from both ends up to an elevated, central platform had been built and decorated to look like a marsh of sorts. Creekside Theatre Festival is concurrently producing Once On This Island on alternating nights. So, the set is clearly built to accommodate both productions.
As the small audience filled in, I noted that contemporary, pop-style music was being played over a spotty sound system. I wondered at the choice to pair Taylor Swift with the Bard and mused that the show may have been in for a radical new take on this classic. Once the show was underway I found that not to be the case, and felt that the musical lead in was an odd choice that set a strange tone that did not fit with the rest of the production.
As the story progressed it was fairly easy for me to pick out those performers who had some background with Shakespeare from those for whom this was a bit new of an experience. The players were not audibly amplified. For some this was a non-issue; but there were several actors for whom this meant they spent the entire production shouting, instead of projecting. I felt bad for their tired vocal chords by the final scenes.
Overall, the blocking from the director, Gabe Spencer, was fairly static. It seemed that the supporting players in a scene more or less found themselves standing or sitting still on the steps with little to do, while the focal characters stood forward with a bit more business. I found myself wishing for more development across the board.
There were a few standout actors in this cast. Lysander, played by Spencer Hunsicker, seemed committed to the process and was really trying to make it believable and interesting, although his commitment at times flirted with overdoing it. Yet, generally his performance was commendable. Eric Low, as Demetius brought a cool air of current to his performance. Hermia, played by Emma Widtfedlt, sometimes felt shallow and unmotivated, but as the show progressed seemed to become more believable and connected to the script. I’m sorry to report that I took issue with a big aspect of Jeanelle Long’s portrayal of Helena; she took several opportunities throughout the show to bring a very modern way of speaking, moving, and reacting to her performance. It just felt out of place to me because the other characters were played in a more classical style.
Long’s performance issues may be because of a lack of a firmly established historical setting throughout the production. It felt like there were several instances where the time frame seemed to jump around and the actors didn’t feel established in a particular universe to me. Accents were another fairly distracting element for me; some actors had them, some did not. Moreover, the accents seemed to come and go. Felt that a bit more stage guidance from the director would have been warranted in that regard.
There were several times where the natural surrounding, particularly the creek, were utilized to great effect. However, they employed many sound cues that were often late, or ill-presented and they ended up being a massive distraction to me. They felt completely unnecessary and would have been better left off. One inherent issue with shows produced “in the wild out of doors,” (particularly at a park) is that there is an unaware public surrounding our artistic endeavors. A very loud, exciting sounding party started just a few minutes after the performance and a bit of the theatrical magic was stolen for a while. But, their party waned eventually and the players charged forward.
Bottom line: this is the first production of a new theater troupe trying to find its way and establish itself. I’m all for more theater. I feel it gives great opportunity both the performing community as well as local theatergoers. Overall, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was enjoyable, and the Creekside Theater Festival will hopefully look fondly back at this inaugural season many years from now.