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Riverside Theatre captures essence of Shakespeare’s comedy

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | JUNE 15, 2009 7:26 AM

Last year, the members of Riverside Theatre were forced, as many in Iowa City, to adjust their lives around water. The company members performed their Shakespeare Festival at City High, quite a different venue from the Lower City Park festival stage, modeled after Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre. On June 13 (after being rained out June 12), Riverside returned to its traditional space in the park with one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Riverside’s performance captured the essence of Shakespeare’s comedy. A well-cast show, combined with the experienced direction of Ron Clark, allowed new light to be shed on a 500-year-old play.

The play is based on four lovers. Lysander (John Watkins) and Demetrius (Bradley Anderson) both love Hermia (Dawn Michelle Mancarella). Hermia, against her father’s wishes, refuses to marry Demetrius because she loves Lysander. Helena (Mallory Portnoy) loves Demetrius, but he wants nothing to do with her. Lysander and Hermia decide to elope, and Demetrius (followed by Helena) chases them into the forest.

While this is happening, a troupe of actors, led by Nick Bottom (Patrick DuLaney) are putting together a play written by Peter Quince (Tim Budd) for the wedding of the duke of Athens, Theseus, and queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. Coincidentally, the actors decide to rehearse in the same forest as the lovers are hiding.

In the forest, the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon (Steve Cardamone) and Titania (Saren Nofs-Snyder), are fighting. Oberon sends faithful servant Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, (Martin Andrews), to find a magic flower filled with “love juice.” Oberon orders Puck to use the flower, resulting in Titania falling in love with Nick Bottom (whose head had been turned into a donkey), and both Demetrius and Lysander become infatuated with Helena, rather than Hermia. The result of all this mischief is comic genius.

Out of all the comic mishaps, Andrews stood out as Puck, with his performance driven by flowing movement, dancing around the stage as he created trauma. Andrews’ Puck was loved by the audience through his innocent mistakes — the troublemaking character wanted to succeed so badly to please his master Oberon but constantly failed and was ultimately punished.

The interaction between the lovers in the forest was hysterical and was the highlight of Act II. The fast-paced changes and physical humor kept the audience members on their toes, creating choral laughter from the audience.

Nick Bottom’s absurd donkey-headed antics were another high point. In one scene, he sits on the floor with Titania’s legs wrapped around him, and they fall asleep. The picture of an ass-headed man and a beautiful woman, clutched in a desperate, lover’s embrace — well, I think that comic image speaks for itself.

Although the show was entertaining throughout, there were a few parts that dragged a little longer than I wanted. In the forest, transitions for actors seemed to be covered with a fairy-dance sequence. This didn’t bother me at first, but each transition seemed a bit long and was one of the few moments of the show I checked the time.

Overall, the show was energetic, genuine, and most importantly, fun. The actors enjoyed themselves on stage, which made for a joyous experience for all. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is meant to create an environment in which people can come and escape their own lives to celebrate in an absurd fashion, and hopefully take a bit of that light-hearted amusement home.

The Riverside Theatre Company succeeded. Just make sure you bring some bug spray.


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