Posted on 13 November 2014.
The Indiana Wesleyan University Theatre Guild will be having its first performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 7:30 this evening, Nov. 13. With IWU’s unique approach to this play, these Grecian lovers, bumbling laborers and mischievous fairies bring Shakespeare’s comedy to life in the school’s own own Phillippe Performing Arts Center.
The play begins outside the Black Box Theatre. In an ideal performance, the cast would perform this first part of the play in the main lobby of the PPAC, but on nights when the auditorium is being used, as on the evening I saw it, the beginning takes place in the hallway right outside the Black Box.
Braden Hunt (sr) plays King Oberon and Sharla Ball (sr) plays Queen Titania.
With the audience standing, the bright lighting, the whirring of the drinking fountain and the green “Exit” signs and metal doors, it was difficult to suspend our belief and transport ourselves into Athens, Greece, when everything around us screamed “we are in a hallway.” The awkwardness of the unusual surroundings seemed to reflect in the actors as well, as they seemed slightly uncomfortable in the hallway setting. I can only hope that when it gets to be performed in their intended place of the main lobby that things come off a little bit better.
Right away, even in this awkward beginning part, Gloria Billingsley (fr) stood out in her character of Hermia. She was so delightfully animated that not even the glaring lighting or hum of the drinking fountain could upset her performance.
And boy did it put a smile on my face to see the next group of actors: Peter Quince and his band of “rude mechanicals,” as Puck refers to them. In the script, where some of the mechanicals with lesser lines seem to not be very distinct from one another, each of these characters had their own quirky mannerisms and personalities, which made them just so fun to watch.
Chelsea Haskett (so) especially stood out among them as Flute. With her knee-buckled walk and her tucked-in chin, she was the most amusing to watch. For such few lines, especially in the beginning, she really grabbed the audience’s attention.
Braden Hunt (sr), too, demanded our attention amidst the group of rude mechanicals, though his part was quite a bit more overt than Flute’s. As Bottom, Hunt was hilarious, boisterous and outrageous. With his wide movements and exaggerations of character, he also was a delight to see perform.
After about the first 30 minutes spent in the hallway, we moved to take our seats in the Black Box, or the “enchanted forest.” I was a little disappointed in the set, however, as it didn’t really look like an “enchanted forest” to me at all. There were no trees or plants to be seen. While the appearance wasn’t ideal, the actual design of the set was very unique and intricate.
The design of the set possessed some very cool features that allowed for fun, surprising touches, and very interesting and creative entrances, exits and interactions on stage. So while they used the design of the set very well and very creatively, it simply didn’t come off as an enchanted forest.
Morgan Hause (fr) plays Puck.
The music didn’t help with that either, however, as it sounded more like African tribal music, more appropriate for “The Lion King” than an enchanted forest in Greece.
The actors portraying the fairies of this enchanted forest wore masks throughout the play, which was a great way to give them a more magical-like appearance and set their world apart from the humans’.
While I’m not sure about the use of masks in theatrical performances as a whole, since they cover up half of the face, which is a major tool for actors and a way in which the audience connects with them and sees their acting, the masks were well-done and the actors used them very well.
Puck, one of these masked beings, didn’t come off quite as I was expecting him to, seeming more like King Oberon’s creepy servant than the freewheeling, mischievous sprite that I thought him to be.
There was a 10-minute intermission before the last half hour of this two and a half hour long play. This last thirty minutes, which consisted of the play-within-a-play put on by the rude mechanicals, while fun, dragged on quite slowly.
The Theatre Guild did some really interesting, unique things with this play. As with any performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” it requires complex and intricate settings, costumes and carefully-crafted character interactions. And as with any Shakespearean play, it is no small feat to put on. The Theatre Guild and everyone who was involved in the play did a great job and really made it their own, a unique artistic creation to IWU that I recommend everyone see.
Showings are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 20-22 and 2 p.m. Nov. 15 and 22 in the Black Box Theatre in the PPAC. Admission is $7 for students, $10 for IWU employees and senior citizens and $12 for adults.