BY JEFF LEVENE
With that early-summer balmy breeze, and a decrease in last month’s poisonous pollen count, one can hardly find a better evening in Downtown Greenville than taking a stroll through Falls Park. And with the addition of the annual Upstate Shakespeare Festival, John Fagan’s cast and crew give an even better reason to spend a night outside in the park.
Opening the festival is Shakespeare’s all too legendary comedic fantasy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” making Falls Parks come alive with the sounds of angry lovers, prankster fairies, and plenty of belly laughs, that just seem to embody that summer-time high.
Helmed by John Fagan’s direction, the show is heavily peppered with flurries of physical comedy that speedily move along the bard’s immortal script, and his casting choices reign supreme, as every single member finds their sweet spot to shine and add to the whimsical magic that shines on the vibrant flower filled stage (designed by Fagan and Rick Connor).
Those unfamiliar with the play should know the cast is divided into several story lines, in which separate factions (a tribe of fairies, a pathetically adorable team of performers, and a quartet of angry and angsty lovers) each have their time to play, and each group thrives while touching on a variety of comedic options.
The lovers, comprised of Crystal Stewart, Jenni Baldwin, Josh Wilson, and John Carino, bring slapstick hilarity to a brilliant climax. The foursome rips off bits of clothing from their enemies, and strikes Karate Kid poses or gives their rivals a wet willy as their fighting degrades from a chivalrous struggle to a delightfully juvenile wrestling match.
In the fairy court, Brock Koonce’s Oberon and Carrie Duello’s Titania go from regal royals to scheming family members from Real Housewives of Ferngully. Micah Israel Miller’s Puck brings a maniacal whimsy delivering a performance with a gleeful childish impishness, with streaks of an anarchist Heath Ledger Joker. And they are backed by a fairy court whose youthful exuberance is contagious.
Helming the mechanicals, Brian Reeder’s Nick Bottom fluctuates between Elizabeth Taylor divaism and brilliantly intentional William Shatneresque scene-eating. And as always, Reeder still finds perfect moments to toss in his own touches of swagger and soul, even occasionally offering modern day asides to his Shakespearean monologues. The remaining members (Simon Crowe, Dan S. Robbins, Richard Beveridge, Austin Smith and Sandy Staggs) incorporate a combination of man-cave culture with the cheapest of Broadway Dreams, providing many of the biggest laughs of the show.
The Royal Court players include James R. Cartee, Jessica Fox, Taylor Davidson and Christiana Reubert. The Fairy contingent is comprised of Kate Evans, Sarah Nathanson, Cameron Carlyle Trieper, Bethany Carper Reed and Dayanari Umana.
With near perfect comedic timing and physical comedy, audiences won’t want to wait til midsummer to see Upstate Shakespeare Festival’s latest hit.
Jenni Balwdin is Costume Designer and Jessica Force is Stage Manager for this production.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs Thursdays through Sundays at 7 p.m. through June 25, and is a free event sponsored by The Warehouse Theatre and The Greenville Parks and Recreation Services. The second summer presentation”Titus Andronicus” runs July 13-30.