Shakespeare’s funniest and most accessible play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, contains a commentary on itself: the play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe. As the “Mechanicals” receive their scripts and prepare their parts, the audience gets a rare glimpse into Elizabethan performance practices, with ludicrous and delightful results. The performance of this farce is, famously, both “merry and tragical,” “tedious and brief.”
That play-within-a-play might also be a commentary upon the many young companies that attempt a production of this work. No matter how tedious their performance, Shakespeare’s words carry them along into realms of imagination, and they are bound to be merry. I have never seen a dull Midsummer. Something about it makes it well suited to youthful actors: maybe it’s the well-balanced cast of characters, or the light-hearted language, or the three simultaneously unwinding plots, or the timelessly realistic dilemmas of love. It’s probably all of the above. It’s also the shimmering, multi-colored scintillations of its implied setting and costumes, that allow the cast to dance and sparkle with pure summertime beauty.
Players of the Stage, Allentown’s homeschoolers theatre company, is in the process of rehearsing Midsummer “most obscenely and courageously” for presentation during the first weekend of May. And “Be certain, nothing truer; ’tis no jest” that these young people scintillate and shine in the light of Shakespeare’s story, bringing it to life yet again and proving that this play can be performed over and over again, by a thousand companies in a hundred countries, and never grow stale.
These young actors (ages eleven to sixteen) are tackling Shakespeare for the first time, under the energetic artistic direction of Sharon Gerdes, in an hour-and-a-quarter adaptation of the play. The diverse multiplicity of roles suites them well. Who is the star of the show? Is it Bottom? Puck? The four Lovers? The Fairy King and Queen? The Duke and Duchess? It is this very egalitarian nature of the story that makes it fit a large cast of student-actors so well: each has a chance to shine while still learning and growing. It is like a good ballet: well choreographed, each individual makes everyone else look good so that the entire ensemble basks in the glory together. That is the case here, with Players of the Stage. The casting is just right, with the strongest actors in those main parts. Puck (both Pucks, as it is double-cast) is a revelation of sheer joy: adorable, energetic, and everywhere throughout the whole play, as a mischief-making force. Watch the young Lovers especially, as they develop their roles and live into the language: there are some really good moments of textual interpretation when these teens take the words into their minds and make them their own.
This is a beautiful production. While there are no sets and props are kept to a minimum, the costumes will dazzle the eyes (much like in Shakespeare’s time). Costume Designer Elizabeth Gahman expanded her visual and technical range with the Fairies and Hipppolyta, vesting them in a fairy-tale mashup of the Elizabethan court and Arabian Nights. They provide a startling contrast to the plain white Grecian garb of the rest of the cast, thus emphasizing the difference between the Mortal Realm and the Kingdom of Fäerie.
“Take pains; be perfect:” Please check out their website, http://www.playersofthestage.org/, for dates and reserve your tickets now!