At one point in the production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that I saw at the Outdoor Stage of the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown last week, some characters walked onstage and were applauded just for their costumes.
Indeed, the costume design — by Bonnie J. Monte (who also directed), working with associate Tiffany Lent — is one of the main strengths of this productions, which is being presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. (Every year, the company does one summertime show at this location instead of its usual indoor home at Drew University in Madison).
Colorful and fanciful, the costumes had, in many cases, a recycling theme (or maybe it’s more appropriate to say, “found art”).
Moth’s cape is made of old credit cards, and Titania’s gown train is built from glittering used CDs. (It’s so bizarre you can’t stop staring at it.) Snout’s hat is actually a colander.
One fairy wears a vest festooned with keys, spikes protrude from Puck’s head and shoulders, and Peaseblossom is covered, from head to foot, with flowers.
(The “teaser” video below will help give you an idea of how creative the costumes are.)
Another impressive thing about this play is its physicality. Some scenes seem almost ballet-like, with an intricate web of leaps and tumbles all around the stage, and off it. (Felix Mayes, who plays Puck, also did the choreography).
This is demanding production to be a part of; I imagine there will be a lot of bumps and bruises over the course of its 6-½ week run. There are also frequent costume changes, with most of the actors playing more than one part.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is William Shakespeare’s most surreal play, with an enchanted forest, magic potions, Puck the mischievous sprite (who famously exclaims, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”), a ridiculously incompetent play-within-a-play mounted by a comically ragtag troupe, and so on.
Nick Bottom, the baselessly conceited leading man of the acting troupe, is one of Shakespeare’s greatest fools, and Ian Hersey plays him with appropriately clueless smarm.
At the center of the play’s interlocking storylines are four young lovers who face many obstacles on the way to their happy, paired-off ending. The male roles Demetrius and Lysander (played by Austin Blunk and Jonathan Finnegan, respectively) don’t really have much depth to them. But the young women Hermia and Helena (played by Courtney McGowan and Nike Kadri) are infuriated, at different times, at being scorned, and the actresses make the most of the opportunity with entertainingly over-the-top outrage.
The best moments of Earl Baker Jr. and Vanessa Morosco (who play the royal couple Theseus and Hippolyta as well as the fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania) are subtler. Baker adds to the fun with an air of good-natured bemusement, Morosco with a sly, playful grin.
This is a fun, vividly imaginative “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I have to add, I’m not sure all the great things about it add up to an actual reinterpretation, or a cohesive artistic statement. But maybe that’s part of the point, since the play itself is a wild, disorienting jumble in the first place.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey will present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Outdoor Stage of the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown through July 30. For information, visit shakespearenj.org.
Free tickets are available for those 18 and younger, and there is also a discount for those 30 and younger.