Before opening night, the bare stage of the Guthrie’s Wurtele Thrust, decorated with only a smattering of gently glowing lanterns, suggested almost nothing about the spectacle that was about to unfold. Some of the audience filtered into onstage bleachers that made the show a fully immersive, theater-in-the-round staging. Then, when the lights went up on a squadron of crisply uniformed soldiers rising from beneath the stage to perform a precisely timed techno-funk dance number, it was clear that this wasn’t your average Shakespeare. This was Shakespeare in full revived glory.
The show retains the dialogue of the Elizabethan original, but that’s where similarities with traditional performances end. This pumped up, hyper-energetic interpretation by directors Joe Dowling and David Bolger renders the show perhaps as entertaining and engaging to the modern audience as Shakespeare’s premiere might have been to long-gone audiences at the Globe.
The dynamic opening set the tone for the rest of the evening, a familiar tale of four confused lovers who get lost and run afoul of manipulative spirits in a woodland kingdom. The fairy King Oberon and his wife Titania are locked in a power struggle, and thanks to interfering spritely minions and a rare magical flower called “Love in Idleness,” chaos ensues.
The costume design is a phenomenal mixture of primitive-looking garments and impossibly sleek formalwear that had the audience, like the characters, believing they were dreaming. Clad in plenty of leather, the fairies have an edgy, biker-gang-meets-Lost Boys appearance, many of them sporting neon mohawks and spiked hair. Seeing local rising star Tyler Michaels’ transformation into the feral and wickedly mischievous Puck demonstrates an adaptability that is a sheer delight to behold.
Each of the intertwining plots has its own special flavor, from the vibrant sorcery of Oberon and Titania’s fairy kingdom to the fumbling community theater allusions surrounding Nick Bottom (Andrew Weems) and his humorously incompetent troupe of players. Unscripted interjections offered some of the most engaging and hilarious antics of the night—Bottom’s histrionic enactment of a death scene (involving gratuitous amounts of stabbing, slicing, and sawing) slays with breathless abandon.
A stunning coordination of lighting and sound on the otherwise sparse stage create the illusion of shadows of a deep and ancient forest, and add an element of intense mystical energy. The show also features several original songs by composer Keith Thomas that utilizes the full range of cast talent, including the sultry and versatile vocals of Nike Kadri as the First Fairy.
As with the characters in the play (who all get their happy ending in one way or another), you’ll leave feeling the sensation that although the night was a wild ride, there’s a lingering essence of unreality—as if waking from a quickly fading dream.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at the Guthrie through March 29. Find tickets and details at guthrietheater.org