It may have all simply been a dream. Within the intimate confines of Houston School of Performing and Visual Arts’ black box theatre space, or within the intimate confines of our minds, played several mischievous forest fairies. They were human-like but not human, each of them unique and quirky characters, cavorting with each other like playful children who are not children, dancing and fighting and teasing, infatuated by piles of leaves and hanging panels of tree trunks and a hammock for their fairy queen and dangling vines and some peacock feathers (trust me when I say you should never steal a forest fairy’s feather).

And then the play started. The most original of Shakespeare’s comedies that mingles the world of foolish Athenian mortals with powerful spirits given to toying with any humans who enter their nighttime forest domain. The plot intermixes two Athenian couples embroiled in a vicious love square, a domestic dispute between two royal fairies, and a group of amateur theatre performers trying to rehearse for a show. But the plot is pretty much window dressing. This comedy is about the characters, and it’s got a bunch of them, and they are portrayed with remarkable humor and originality by a group as talented as any director could dream up. And Director Suzanne Jennings and her cast have some wild dreams!

Shateria Mills is the beautiful and willful daughter Hermia who is determined to marry Lysander (Josh Langham) regardless of a possible death sentence brought about by her disapproving mother. Shateria is a sucker for flattery, vainly preening as her friend Helena whines about how comparatively beautiful Hermia is. But Hermia has a temper to match that can result in kicks to the groin, both temper and groin kicks apparently skills she learned from her equally tough mother (Ashley Munfus). Helena is played by the hilarious Kristen Adams who uses expressions and body language with great skill as her childishly obsessed character (her lopsided pigtails are genius) pursues the verbally abusive Demetrius (Clifford Nunley) who was once her lover but who now desires only Hermia. Kristen’s single-minded efforts to get her unrequited love include ripping his shirt off when he threatens to ravish her and leave her (she’s not exactly subtle about her desires) and a well-designed and executed struggle between the foursome watched by the instigator fairy Puck and the other fairies who continuously have to move about to stay out of the skirmish and to stay invisible to the humans by trying to blend themselves into the forest scenery.

Not far from all that action is the group of amateur actors rehearsing a “tedious and brief” play that they hope to put on for the wedding ceremony of Theseus and Hippolyta. This group seems to feed off each other, snowballing into a play for the ages. John Paul Green is a brilliant Bottom, the lead actor with a limitless ego and an equally limitless flair for melodrama, who wants to perform all the roles in the play and treats his fellow actors with complete lack of respect – at one point mimicking the speech impediment of “slow of study” Snug, at another point taking advantage of the female actor Snout who has to make a chink in the wall with her two fingers so Bottom can whisper through them, but ends up getting those fingers sucked on by Bottom who fancies himself sexy. Later Bottom will more literally become the ass that he is when transformed into a half-ass by Puck, with Bottom soon being hysterically seduced by spellbound fairy queen Titania. But Bottom’s time as an ass does not make him any kinder to animals as evidenced by his penchant for slamming around rubber chickens (horrifying the nature-loving fairies) and by his decision to hold Snug’s stuffed animal hostage at sword point to the horror of Snug. Bottom tops it all off with an out-of-control suicide scene that at one point has him slowly shoving his sword in one ear and, through several agonizing starts and stops, out through the other side.

Bottom might not respect them, but he’s got a fantastic supporting cast in their play within a play. Quince (Ashley Munfus) directs the bunch that includes Creshelle Smith as the aforementioned wall. Her initial stage fright is wiped away by a little encouragement from the wedding party audience, and soon she is feeling good about herself, giving high-fives through the audience and whipping out not just one chink in the wall, but two (though she won’t let Bottom’s mouth get too close after the whole finger-sucking thing). Clifford Nunley is Flute, the doomed female (well, sort of female) lover of Bottom's character. James McBride is a riot as Starveling who plays the part of the moon with sunny beams who can be very sensitive (when he is pushed down on roller skates, he does the Nancy Kerrigan cry of “Why? Why? Why?”) and he has a deep affection for the rubber chicken – at one point feeding it by regurgitating his sandwich into the chicken’s mouth. Though he also uses that chicken as a potential club when frightened by the transformed Bottom, and later tortures Bottom with a stuffed animal to make sure the suicide scene really ends in Bottom’s death. Brian James is terrific as the shy, nervous, slow-minded and slow-speaking Snug who gets so scared when Bottom appears as half an ass that he goes into a seizure, and who is more at ease and has more conversations with stuffed animals than with people. We get to hear the actor’s real voice briefly after Bottom slaps him, then Bottom has to slap him again to fix him back the way he was. The group of actors work together perfectly and put on a play that the wedding party will surely never forget.

And finally there are the fairies. Grant Coleman is the powerful and confident Oberon. Hannah Broom is the seductive Titania who keeps grossing out her entourage of fairies with her romantic exploits that, of course, include seducing an ass in a hilarious scene that includes her throwing him to the ground and going nuts over his new long ears and snout. She also plays Hippolyta, the fiancé of Theseus, which gives Bottom quite a start when he is performing at Hippolyta’s wedding and suddenly finds himself standing in front of the same actress who seduced him during his “dream.” Adding much to the whole production from beginning to end is the ensemble of quirky fairies interacting with their surroundings, themselves, the other characters, and the audience with great humor. Of course, the best known of them is Puck, the assistant to Oberon, with the rubbery-faced comedian Akliah Muhammad filling the role with loads of personality. She begins the show as Theseus’ assistant Philostrate who nervously but bravely protects her employer from angry residents, then bursts onto the forest as Puck who describes his mischievous exploits with much help from the other fairies, is later seen repeating Oberon’s important instructions with bureaucratic boredom before enjoying the mess he accidentally creates when the instructions lead to a little accident, and in the end convinces us that if the play offended anyone, then perhaps it was all just a dream.

One of the great aspects of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that every production is very unique, and this one is definitely that. From the countless clever antics of the performers to the musical interludes like a soulful rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In to a rap by Puck to the closing number of I Feel Good, this production is just plain fun.

Performed November 2 - 10, 2007.

Rob Hopper
Executive Director
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Theseus/Oberon: Grant Coleman
Egeus/Quince: Ashley Munfus
Lysander: Josh Langham
Demetrius/Flute: Clifford Nunley
Puck/Philostrate: Akliah Muhammad
Snout: Creshelle Smith
Snug: Brian James
Bottom: John Paul Green
Starveling: James McBride
Hippolyta/Titania: Hannah Broom
Hermia: Shateria Mills
Helena: Kristen Adams
Titania's Fairies:
Nicole Dele
Kendra Hollingsworth
Jenna Mark
Creshelle Smith
Amalie Steidley
Devyn Tyler
Oberon's Henchmen:
Brian James
Josh Langham
James McBride
Clifford Nunley
Indian Boy: Ellis Davis

Director: Suzanne Jennings
Set Designers: Katy McCormick and Claire Schaffer
Costume Designers: Kristina Markovsky and Emily Nichol
Lighting Designer and Light Board Operator: Meg Viers
Sound Design and Sound Engineer: Hannah Eskelson
Stage Manager: Jarrett Thomas


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