Highland Center creates a magical ‘Dream'

From left, Titania (Amanda Rafuse), Bottom (Jacob Tischler) and Mustardseed (Christpher Scheer) in the Highland Center’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” PHOTO BY KAREN GOWEN

GREENSBORO — The Northeast Kingdom’s new $14 million theater opened its first professional theater production this week, and it’s much more than promising. The Highland Center for the Arts is presenting William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Aug. 9-13. And while Thursday’s preview, with an all-around fine cast, proved more comedy than romance, the production was simply spectacular — the state-of-the-art 225-seat theater became a magical dream. Shakespeare’s fantasy-comedy follows two young couples in difficulty escaping into the forest, away from parental control and the marriage celebration of the duke, Theseus, and Hippolyta. There, these Athenian lovers find themselves at the mercy of fairies whose king and queen, Oberon and Titania, are having a tiff of their own. At the behest of Oberon, wily henchman Robin “Puck” Goodfellow wreaks havoc on the young lovers as well as a troupe of inept but colorful actors rehearsing “the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of ‘ Pyramus and Thisbe’” for the upcoming wedding entertainment. It’s a wild night in the forest, but was it just a dream? The Highland Center production, presented in collaboration with White River Junction’s Northern Stage, certainly enjoyed the fantasy. Director Craig Johnson played the fairy world as ethereal and the actors’ troupe as farce, which is traditional. But, unusually, the realistic characters, the young lovers, were also played as farce, with mixed results. The production’ s fairy world was beautiful and joyful fantasy, both physically and theatrically. Nathan Stevens’ Puck was wily, witty and delightful fun, while Robert David Grant and Amanda Rafuse were the fairies’ anchors as well as delightfully witty as Oberon and Titiania (doubling, as is the tradition, as the much more serious Theseus and Hippolyta). In creating the fairy world, the production used “aerial silks,” lengths of cloth hung from the ceiling and used acrobatically as well as part of the scenery. They were used by various characters, particularly Puck. But the most beautiful and romantic moment of the evening was an exquisite pas de deux between Kate Kenney and Christopher Scheer as the fairies Peaseblossom and Mustardseed. Sophina Saggau and Damian Leverett as Hermia and Lysander, and Anna Barry Leverett and Bradley Hidebrandt as Helena and Demetrius, were particularly well cast as the lovers. Terribly funny in the beginning, their slapstick comedy began to seem endless in the second act. The acting troupe, actually six laborers dubbed “rude mechanicals” by Puck, were wonder fully color ful and entertaining — Molly Pietz- Walsh as Peter Quince, Sam Bulpin as Flute (Thisbe), Rosann Hickey Cook as Snout ( Wall), Doug McGown as Snug (Lion) and Ed Donlon as Starveling (Moonshine). Jacob Tischler, though an excellent comic actor, milked every moment and laugh so much and so long as Bottom that Pyramus’ death seemed an afterthought. The physical production utilized the Highland Center’s tall stage beautifully, starting with Joe Dotts’ imaginative and fantastic scenic design, beautifully highlighted by Kat Morrill’s creative lighting. Gorgeous and evocative — and sometimes very funny — costumes by Kathy Kohl, music by Damian Leverett and choreography by Tischler filled out the beautiful picture. The Highland Center proved itself an excellent home for theater Thursday, inviting its enthusiastic audience into the beautiful imaginary world created by William Shakespeare. Let’s hope this is just the beginning. HIGHLAND CENTER FOR THE ARTS The Highland Center for the Arts presents William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Aug. 9-13 at its theater, 2875 Hardwick St., in Greensboro. Remaining performances are at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25, $10 for students; $10 for Aug. 9 and 10 previews; call 802-533-9075, or go online to http://highlandartsvt.org.

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