Review: Shakespeare in Paradise awakens to glittering 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

Rachael Endrizzi as Puck and Mark Vanagas as fairy king Oberon. The Shakespeare in Paradise production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' plays at 8 p.m. March 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31 at the Barron Collier High School auditorium. Tickets are $20. Call 866-967-8167, online at showtix4u.com or at the door.

Dallas Wauters / Shakespeare in Paradise

Rachael Endrizzi as Puck and Mark Vanagas as fairy king Oberon. The Shakespeare in Paradise production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" plays at 8 p.m. March 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31 at the Barron Collier High School auditorium. Tickets are $20. Call 866-967-8167, online at showtix4u.com or at the door.

Video from YouTube
Video from YouTube

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

When: 8 p.m. March 22-24 and 29-31

Where: Barron Collier High School auditorium

Cost: $20 adults, $10 students

Tickets: showtix4u.com, 866-967-8167, or at the door

Information: www.facebook.com/sipnaples

On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.

— John McKerrow gets a lot of things right as Shakespeare in Paradise ventures into the woods for "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Fairies in fantastic costumes whirl and tumble. Lovers spit and quarrel. A donkey brays. Shakespeare's prose, as it often does, cradles a sometimes enthralling production.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," one of the Bard's most popular works, follows several couples in ancient Athens. Hermia and Lysander flee the city, followed by Demetrius and Helena and later a group of actors rehearsing a play.

Mischief from trickster Puck and fairy king Oberon confuses the lovers, scatters the actors and transforms Nick Bottom (a hysterical, if majestically over-the-top Randall Kenneth Jones) into a creature with a donkey's head. It actually all makes sense when you watch it.

"Midsummer" represents McKerrow's first production at Shakespeare in Paradise's new home at Barron Collier High School. If the moody moonlit atmosphere of the Naples Botanical Garden backdrop where "MacBeth: A Love Story" played out might have been better suited for "Midsummer," the facilities at the school are far better. Notably lacking are the garden's croaking chorus of sonorous bullfrogs and teeming trillions of mosquitos.

Above all else, the show captures the whimsy and magic of what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish with "Midsummer." Costumer Mark Vanagas turns the full force of his wild imagination loose, crafting a veritable bizarre bazaar of faerie outfits in fantastical colors. Emerald capes trimmed in gold leaf flutter across the stage. Turquoise streamers flow.

Mike Santos transforms the dull and barren high school stage into a woodland paradise using old carpet and paint. You want to get lost in this array of twinkling lights, leafy trees, gnarled stumps, twisting vines and blossoming flowers. You want to climb into Queen Titania's beckoning bower or curl up with wild creature Puck in the gazebo-like structure where the sprite watches the humans frolic.

Hair and makeup artist David Goguen dusts glitter over Puck. He plasters Brad Goetz's hair into curls across his forehead for his comical actor's role. A spiky 'do in ebony and white decorates fairy Cobweb. Attendant Mustardseed wears a vivid saffron sash and a feathered, fluffy crown of hair black as night. The show springs to vivid, gorgeous life once it enters the forested woodland.

McKerrow combines a crew of longtime local amateur actors with high school and college students to produce a solid, if uneven production. Experienced actors like Rachael Endrizzi (a magnificent Puck), Vanagas (a brilliant, towering Oberon) and Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow (a shimmering Titania) tend to shine brighter in their scenes, simply by virtue of knowing the craft better and being in the game longer.

Shakespeare in Paradise earns major points for putting students and new faces on stage - and in so many strong roles. Yet, some parts of the show can feel dim - if only by comparison to scenes with more seasoned actors.

Endrizzi attacks the mischievous Puck with glee. Watching her cartwheel around the stage wearing tights and a feathery crown that rides the currents of air as she dashes to and fro is one of the night's greatest pleasures. The actress snatches the words and cadence of Shakespeare's speech with power and tosses them out into the wild night with abandon and obvious joy.

Leana Simpson brings a vigorous fire to her unhappy Helena. The character pines for Demetrius (David Micheal Manni), who is in turn betrothed to Hermia (Tori Hendry). But Hermia instead loves Lysander (Mike Santos). Oh, what a tangled web.

One of the play's best scenes comes after Puck and Oberon have doused the men with magical potions to make them fall in love with the first creatures they sight upon waking - which happens to be Helena in both case - whom neither of them love.

Simpson storms the stage in a fury as she fears being cuckolded by the brutes who previously spurned her. Vanagas clothes her in a fetching pink and green gown to emphasize her feminine wiles - and she swishes to and fro like a flower bending to whims of her rage.

Meanwhile, Hendry's frail Hermia turns on her one-time friend in a spitting tornado of anger at stealing her beloved. The tiny teen (she's just 17) leaps upon Santos's back and tries to claw her way through him to reach the traitor Helena in a catfight.

Why is the scene so good? Beyond the histrionics (which are entertaining in and of themselves), the actors tend to forget they are "performing" and allow the words to sweep them (and the audience) up, instill the action with a sense of power and movement and give real weight to the prose. Behind all this, Vanagas and Endrizzi twine in the bushes and trees, peeking from between leaves, grinning at the chaos they have caused and munching forest berries like popcorn.

At its best, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" sweeps the audience away into a woodland glade far away and lit by moonlight and starshine, where winged fairies flit in the trees and fantastic dreams flutter on the breeze. Let Rachael Endrizzi's marvelous, mischievous Puck brush your eyes with Oberon's magic herbs and whisk you away into a glamorous, glittering "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be performed at the Barron Collier High School auditorium on March 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31. It starts at 8 p.m. and is roughly two hours long, including intermission.

For more information about Shakespeare in Paradise, visit www.facebook.com/sipnaples.

What are your midsummer night's dreams? Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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