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DOUBLE REVIEW A Midsummer Night's Dream
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2016-07-20

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DOUBLE REVIEW

A Midsummer Night's Dream Playwright: Shakespeare. At: First Folio Theatre, Mayslake

Forest Preserve, Oak Brook. Tickets: 630-986-8067; FirstFolio.org; $29-$39. Runs through: Aug. 14

Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret Playwright: Derek Van Barham, after Shakespeare. At: Pride Films & Plays at Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. Tickets: 800-737-0984; PrideFilmsAndPlays.com; $25-$30. Runs through: Aug. 14

A Midsummer Night's Dream is Shakespeare's comedy in which mortals and fairies intersect in a mythological forest as fairy king Oberon ( Michael Joseph Mitchell ) quarrels with fairy queen Titania ( Johanna McKenzie Miller ), plays tricks on four human young lovers and turns blue collar guy Nick Bottom ( Steve Peebles ) into a donkey.

There are lots of different ways to do "Dream," which has been "translated" into operas, ballets, movies, comic books, rock versions, puppet adaptations and gender switch-genderfuck manifestations. It's nice, therefore, that First Folio Theatre director Hayley Rice has provided a straight-forward, plain-spoken, low-concept interpretation for the Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve. At the same time, Mary's Attic hosts a jukebox genderfuck shorthand version, Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret. Rest assured that fairies rule the night in both.

First Folio offers Midsummer in its entirety, with Angela Weber Miller's Art Nouveau-inspired scenic design providing a graceful arabesque of curving tree trunks as backdrop for the action. Elsa Hiltner's mixed-genre costumes are vaguely 18th-century for mortals and vaguely pop/mod for fairies and colorful for all, with lovely patterned gowns for the leading ladies.

Act I is slow going, filled with exposition and the set-ups of the various intertwined storylines, but the show springs to life after intermission for a very lively second half. The well-known scene between the four young lovers lost in the forest—their affections altered through interference by Oberon's assistant, Puck ( Sydney Germaine )—is especially successful as is the play's penultimate delight, the blue collar artisans' bumbling theatrical production of Pyramus and Thisbe, with Nick Bottom as Pyramus. The four lovers are played with aplomb by Sarah Wisterman ( Hermia ), Tony Carter ( Demetrius ), Ali Burch ( Helena ) and T. Isaac Sherman ( Lysander ).

This production isn't electrifying, but it makes a most pleasant and pretty summer evening, especially if you come early and picnic. First Folio has taken steps to minimize the mosquito population ( near zero on cooler evenings ), but the fireflies still twinkle charmingly as night falls.

Pride Films & Plays director/adapter Derek Van Barham throws away most of Shakespeare in Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret, in which Oberon ( Kevin Webb ) and drag queen Titania ( Raymond K. Cleveland ) magically rule a gay bar. They quarrel over their open relationship, with Titania noting "Open means honest and that you are not." The mortals who stop for a drink are three women and a man, presenting shifting affectional possibilities.

Bite offers an eclectic mix of 17 pop songs in 90 minutes, among them hits recorded by Adam Lambert, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Rufus Wainwright and even Mama Cass. Some are sung live, some lip-synced and others sung over the original recordings. The dozen performers are strong-voiced and passionate. The choreography by Van Barham and Christopher Young is far better than necessary, adding greatly to the lively show. Bite begins silly and shallow but deepens through the appropriate, varied music selected by Van Barham and music director Jeff Bouthiette.

FYI: Pride Films & Plays has taken over the former Profiles Theatre at 4147 N. Broadway and will begin producing there in September.


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