Jack Garner: Shakespeare shines at Geva

05:00 AM, May 17, 2013

Titania (Carly Street) and Oberon (Keith Hamilton) in Geva's Midsummer's Night Dream. (Ken A. Huth)/


Written By Jack Garner

Do you know the many gifts of William Shakespeare to civilization include no less than 1,700 words? Yes, the great writer not only contributed stunning stories that have remained meaningful over the centuries, but he often invented the words with which to tell them.

For example, if you were ever tempted to say, oh, “Let’s mimic the manager as he goes swaggering through the moonlight,” you can thank Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For that play, currently on the boards at Geva Theatre, Shakespeare created “mimic,” “manager,” “swaggering” and “moonbeam.”

Shakespeare’s gift as a wordsmith was just one thing we learned in Geva’s audience prologue to the current production. (Geva presents a prologue before each presentation of each play, an hour before show time.) They’re well worth attending, are free with your theater admission, and form a worthwhile preface to your night of theater. An actor from the show or Geva literary director Jenni Werner usually presents.

We also learned why Shakespeare called his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, despite setting it on April 29 – May 1: At the time the play was written (believed to be somewhere between 1594 and 1596), England apparently divided the year into three seasons, not four. Thus, with no spring, May 1 would be midsummer.

Of course, as informative as a prologue may be, the play’s the thing (as Shakespeare also wrote). Geva is wrapping up its 40th anniversary year with an entertaining and often magical production of William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It’s the Bard’s comic look at “what fools these mortals be,” as he engenders mayhem among fairies and humans in a mystical forest outside of Athens. Oberon, king of the fairies, dispatches Puck, his chief mischief-maker, to distribute a magical floral potion to confuse various characters into loving the wrong potential mates (and even causes Oberon’s own love, Titania, to fall in love with a donkey).

As comic relief, Shakespeare also throws in a company of amateur actors, here called “the mechanicals.” With them, he dives headlong into over-the-top hammy comedy. Even their names are exaggerations, such as Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Tom Snout, Robin Starveling, and Snug. They say and do everything as broadly as humanly possible, which may challenge your tolerance for “broad.”

Geva’s production is co-directed by Mark Cuddy and Skip Greer, and is clear, articulate, and very amusing, with delightful performances, and first-rate costume and stage design. (I particularly like the reggae-like dreadlocks on both the quietly regal Oberon and the athletically energetic Puck.)

Music is almost always important in Shakespeare’s comedies, for which he often contributed song lyrics and potential settings for music. However, it’s up to each production to create music that is hopefully appropriate. In this case, the Greek-inspired music of composer John Zeretzke goes well beyond appropriate —it’s absolutely enticing.

The most entertaining aspects of this production involve the central story of the various lovers, trying to untangle their considerably crossed-up relationships, (including Titania’s lust for a donkey).

Although the “mechanicals” generate comic relief, their antics are sometimes over-extended. Certainly, Shakespeare is the greatest playwright in the English language, but this play proves even he could let a finale go a bit too far. I “felt” an ending two or three times before the real one arrived.

Still, a Shakespearian experience is always highly recommended, especially when the text and the concepts and setting are presented with the intelligence, humor, taste and talent of this Geva cast and crew.

MASTER MEL BROOKS: The great comic genius is profiled in a wonderful (and, understandably, very funny) documentary on WXXI Monday, May 20.American Masters: Mel Brooks: Make a Noise is a 90-minute film on the life and times of Brooks, from his early years to his series of great film parodies to his Broadway success (through a musical version of his classic, The Producers.)

Adding anecdotes and insight are such Brooks cohorts and admirers as Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Carl Reiner and Joan Rivers. The film explores such Brooksian moments as his participation in the legendary writing team for Sid Caesar (a team that also included Woody Allen and Neil Simon) and his creation (along with Reiner) of the hilarious 2,000 Year Old Man.

Make a Noise makes a worthwhile companion piece to the longer and even more substantial American Masters profile of the era’s other great comedy genius, Woody Allen, broadcast in 2011.

Like Woody Allen: A Documentary, the new film, Mel Brooks: Make A Noise, also is being released on DVD on May 21, for those who either miss the PBS telecast or which to revisit it.