Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Selby Gardens

Tatiana with the ass-headed Nick Bottom
It's hard to imagine a better way to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday than taking in FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training's rousing production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Selby Gardens. That's exactly what Dorrit, Bruce and I did last Sunday. It was a blast.

As soon as we laid eyes on the setting, we knew we were in for a treat. The small stage was situated on Selby's lake in the midst of lush oak, palm and other trees. A heron landed on an adjacent peninsula as if to watch the proceedings. A mother duck and her ducklings swam through the lily pads. It was an idyllic location befitting of a play that takes place in a forest and uses a magic potion derived from a flower as a plot device.

Puck and Oberon
Thanks to Bruce's explanation of the plot on our drive to Sarasota, we were well-prepared for the multiple storylines of the play. Plotline 1: The upcoming wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Plotline 2: The play to be put on by the Duke's craftsman in honor of the wedding. Plotline 3: The romantic couplings of Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius. Plotline 4: The mischief of Oberon, Titania, Puck and the other forest fairies. (You can see why, even if you've seen the play before, the pre-show primer was helpful.)  The show's requirement of a large cast enabled all 12 of the Conservatory's second year students--and a few first years--to take on roles.

Thisbe, the wall and Pyramus
From the moment the students took the stage, I was all-in. The play is so funny that I found myself doubled over in laughter at various points. The costumes, particularly those of the fairies, were amazing. The students were uniformly terrific. And the direction by Jonathan Epstein took full advantage of the setting, with characters flitting through the trees, appearing unexpectedly on the peninsula and entering from all sides. The mulched area in front of the stage facilitated many skids and falls; by the end of the show, the laundress definitely had her work cut out for her.

Helena, Demetrius, Lysander and Hermia
With Shakespeare, the temptation always exists to do a bit of updating. Epstein did so judiciously, throwing in lines that landed every time with the audience (but would have definitely left Shakespeare scratching his head).  The plot of the craftsman's play involves a wall through which Thisbe and Pyramus declare their love. It was a lay-up to add queries as to who would build the wall and, of course, who would pay for it. 

Not surprisingly, the mischievous Puck made a few funny asides as he tried to undo the errors he had made in application of his love potion. "Can you do me a solid and lie right here?" he asked. "I'll never hear the end of it if you don't." 

The silliest--and most high energy--reminder of our current world involved a celebratory dance to Ludacris singing "I wanna li-li-li-lick you from your head down to your toes."  I suspect the students chose the music (and that I wasn't the only audience member who hadn't heard the song before, although it now holds a special place in my iTunes library). 

The craftsman actor
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this production.  And while the show is sold-out through the end of its run, there's good news. First, the 2017-2018 Conservatory season will also include a production at Selby Gardens -- Much Ado About Nothing.  If you don't want to miss it, I'd suggest making a note on your fall calendar to get tickets early.  Better yet, why not get tickets for the entire Conservatory season? The offerings--Oedipus, The Motherf***er with the Hat, The Rehearsal and Much Ado--will provide these outstanding graduate students the chance to be put through their paces in a variety of productions. And season tickets are ridiculously inexpensive -- only $100 for all four shows.

For year-round residents who are theater lovers, there's more good news. The Conservatory has added two summer shows to its season (in part, to fill the void left by the closure of Banyon Theater).
The inaugural Dog Days Theatre season features Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn and a theatrical version of Double Indemnity.  It's a welcome addition to the Southwest Florida theater scene -- and a great opportunity to check out the fine work of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory students. 

See you at the theater! 

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