Bare Theatre Company’s pixilated production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed Feb. 15-19 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC, was truly magical: an extraordinary theatrical experience and confirmation that the Raleigh-based troupe’s Shakespeare-on-a-shoestring approach can triumph when the company has just the right directorial approach and just the right cast for the work at hand. That was certainly the case with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is one of the choicest creations to date from the directorial imagination of Carmen-maria Mandley.

Bare Theatre’s artistic director, who took a critical drubbing for the company’s recent lackluster presentation of Hamlet, is back on her game with a fresh and very, very funny take on Shakespeare’s marvelous moonstruck romantic comedy set in and around ancient Athens. From the first moment the frizzy-haired fairies amble in—some upright, some bent double, some crawling—it is apparent that this is not your father’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Jeff Buckner and especially Nancy Rich give regal performances as Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. On the eve of their imminent nuptials, the happiness of the betrothed couple is shattered when Theseus appalls Hippolyta by rather imperiously and peremptorily condemning Hermia (Sarah Schmitt) to death or life in a convent if she rejects Demetrius (Brendan Putz), her father’s choice for her husband in favor of Lysander (Matt Schedler), who wooed and won Hermia’s heart while Demetrius with trifling with the affections of Helena (Heather J. Hackford).

Sarah Schmitt is cute as Hermia, short of stature but big of heart; but Heather Hackford is wonderful as poor unhappy Helena, a tall and somewhat self-conscious maiden heartlessly rejected by the man she loves and, seemingly, mocked by all her former friends. Matt Schedler and Brendan Putz are good as Lysander and Demetrius, the not-so-friendly rivals for Hermia’s hand in marriage; and Joyce Davis (in drag) is a real pip as Hermia’s implacable father Egeus, who refuses to back down even when his daughter’s future happiness is at stake.

Jarrod Swart and Gina Kelly are enchanting as Oberon and Titania, the bickering fairy king and queen; Jesse R. Gephart, with Nick Fields riding piggyback, is a scream as Puck, Oberon’s cheeky servant and the careless rascal who bungles the job when the fairy king commands to devil his recalcitrant queen and a snobby Athenian man (Demetrius) who is wandering through the enchanted woods of the fairy kingdom; and Kristin Parker, Tara Pozo, Betsy Stables, and Katy Werlin are fabulous—simply fabulous—as the motley crew of fairies that serve the royal couple.

Laura Jernigan, Chuck Keith, Lance Rappaport, Dean Rayburn, Kacey Reynolds, and especially Rebecca Blum are hilarious as a group of artisans rehearsing their preposterous play, The Most Lamentable Comedy, and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe, for competition to be performed at the upcoming nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta. Blum, who dons drag to play Nick Bottom, is a stitch when she wakes up hee-hawing with asses’ ears, courtesy of Puck, and a smitten Titania, also courtesy of Puck, kissing her shaggy head and caressing her in a most forward fashion.

The worst that can be said about the Bare Theatre Company’s superlative staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that it had to short a run in too small a venue to accommodate all the Shakespeare lovers who might have attended had the show run another weekend or two. Director Carmen-maria Mandley and her young and very, very talented cast must share kudos for this outstanding production with lighting designer Andy Parks, costume designers Jeremy Clos and Mandley, fight choreographer Heather Hackford, assistant movement coach Kat Randle, and composer G. Todd Buker. All of them made substantial contributions to a show that will surely make some local critic’s 10 best list for 2006.

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