A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Friends’ Central School

Friends Central 4A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, PA

February 29, 2016

Review by: Melina Walling of The Episcopal Academy

The soul of Shakespeare and the spirit of jazz came together with a magical energy this weekend at Friends’ Central School’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream! The inventive production reminded the audience that magic can be found in the imagination of any culture, time period, or setting – especially with an energetic and powerful cast to guide them along.

Although Shakespeare wrote the original script around 1595, many of the choices that made this rendition so effective came from later American influences, including the developing jazz movement, the echoes of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, and the mysterious aura of the Southern bayou. All of these elements combined to give the show a mood that was accessible to a modern audience as it was unique.

A strong ensemble immediately transported the production into the realm of the fantastical, and the technical aspects of the show made the illusion all the more believable. The 69th Street Brass Brand brought the original music in full force, and the sound design by Neil Goldader brought an interesting layer to the visual spectacle provided by the other technical elements. All together, music, dance, and words intertwined to create a lively and captivating presentation.

Throughout the antics and confusing twists of the fairy kingdom, the lead actors did an excellent job moving the story forward with clear and powerful performances. Noelle Mercer immediately gave life to Hermia with her vocals and clever phrasing. Hermia’s companions, Lysander (Julian Shapiro-Barnum), Demetrius (Joe Schoepp), and Helena (Evie Johnson) all had admirable chemistry. This dynamic leadership brought humor and charisma to a challenging Shakespeare script.

Many of the supporting characters gave the show some of its funniest moments, while adding a distinctive flair to the ensemble. Egeus (Zoe Walker) had some hilarious asides, personal punch lines that left the fourth wall in pieces. The fairies, including Oberon (Naomi Detre), Titania (Mikaela Uricheck), and Puck (Amelia Boscov), wreaked havoc on the foolish mortals with a contagious amusement. Alex Bessen gave a standout performance as Bottom, switching between sidesplitting physical comedy, with an effortless delivery of “Ave Maria” at a moment’s notice.

The visual impact of the show could not have been possible without its innovative lighting design (Sam Veith). Although some ideas may have been risky – especially some of the gobo techniques and laser-projected “pin spots” – those risks clearly paid off. Despite an occasional awkward transition or placement, the overall result was scenery that had both realistic depth and an element of fantasy.

Shakespeare himself was a writer who knew how to combine the best ideas of a time period with his own unique perspective. Friends’ Central certainly attested to the importance of this mentality and showcased their creativity with a dreamlike production.

Review by: Jane Mentzinger of Westtown School

While the course of true love might not run smoothly, Friends Central’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream certainly did. The Bard’s work from the 1590’s was lively, funny, and romantic, as the actors skillfully conveyed their understanding of Shakespeare’s language and meaning to their transfixed audience.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows the mischief and antics of four lovers, six actors, and a band of fairies as they roam the woods looking for love in all the wrong places. Friends’ Central set the tale in New Orleans jazz age, adding a fun dose of Cajun spice to the proceedings.

The actors took Shakespeare’s advice and made all the world a stage, treating every inch of the auditorium as a performance space, even the laps of a few lucky audience members. The brass band’s jazz interludes, composed by Derin Caglar, beautifully complemented the onstage action and highlighted some amazing voices. The unique musical selections gave the traditional material a new and fresh feel.

The four lovers were uniformly excellent. Noelle Mercer (Hermia) delighted the audience as innocent, ditzy lover, and then dramatically shifted gears to give us an intimidating, scorned woman. Mercer also offered some amazing vocals. Evie Johnson (Helena) showed her character’s true emotional depth. Julian Shapiro-Barnum and Joe Schoepp (Lysander and Demetrius, respectively) were comedic geniuses physically, even while in the background.

The acting troupe was hilarious. Alex Bessen (Bottom) thoroughly entertained the audience with his various impressions, and did make them wish he would roar again. Jesse Gross, Peter Zhang, and Ezra Kruger, as the actors playing Thisbe, the wall, and the moon respectively, made every moment they had on stage count with their exaggerated acting.

Using a variety of lighting techniques, Sam Veith turned a stage into a swamp. By placing lights on stage, Veith made use of actors’ shadows to add to the mystery. Veith also used little dots of red and green light to make the magic of the fairy kingdom come alive. Naomi Detre’s simple makeup design for the fairies was tasteful and creative.

We might have been looking for foolish mortals at Friends’ Central Production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but what we got instead were amazing actors and brilliant performances. Puck, you need not apologize, the audience was far from offended.

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