Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The evening I spent watching A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Blackbird in Ann Arbor had me lamenting the numerous shows I've missed seeing there in recent years. Director Bart Bund has an ease with Shakespeare to which other directors should aspire — he's comfortable experimenting with the source material without crossing over into irreverence.

I read in a review that having five actors play all the roles was well executed, but it is a particular marvel that not only were the characters' identities crystal clear, this was also the most accessible Shakespeare I have ever seen. Even in very good stagings of Shakespeare plays that I've read or seen before, I can momentarily lose the thread of narrative or have trouble distinguishing similar-looking actors. Here, the characters were thoughtfully crafted and the language enlivened with a sense of play that never fell into recitation.

I particularly enjoyed the staging of the quarrel among the lovers all assembled in the woods, which took full advantage of the space; its liveliness was just enough to add to the conflict without drawing focus from the complicated relationships. Using the several tiers of the set to exaggerate the height difference between Hermia and Helena (the source of plenty of jokes in the text) is a prime example of physically embodying the text for the audience's sake. Similarly, when the five-actor constraint required characters to swap lines or employ creative staging, the result was fluid, a challenge bested instead of an obstacle worked around.

Another review singled out two of the men for exceptional performances, but I found myself drawn by Jamie Weeder. After making appearances as Hermia and Quince, she emerged as Puck, and the character was so far removed from the others that I initially had trouble determining which actress was playing the role. To me, her shape-shifting was even more of an accomplishment than the goofy physical humor of some other characters.

The clarity of these multiple roles was helped in no small part by the design elements: costumes that clearly delineated lovers from actors from fairies, musical themes for each, and a clever lighting design complemented with naked compact fluorescent light bulbs that seemed to echo the theater's entreaty to please recycle the program. I wish that more people had been in the audience the night I saw the show; these actors and this theater deserved the reactions of a larger group.


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