Theater Review - Georgia Shakespeare gives Dream a backstage pass

A backstage concept sets the tone for an entertaining but cluttered production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Bottom is on the top of Georgia Shakespeare’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for both good and ill. Actor Chris Kayser, frequently the festival’s frontman, plays Nick Bottom, the rough-hewn weaver who’s also the self-styled star of some would-be thespians.

??Dream gives Bottom and the other “rude mechanicals” a turn in the spotlight, which may have inspired director John Dillon’s staging. Where Georgia Shakespeare’s 2000 production took place on a stylized lunar landscape, the current one unfolds in a modern playhouse’s backstage area. Before the show gets started, we watch the cast chatting and stretching while the headset-wearing stage manager counts down before the curtain. This Dream takes its cue not from the refined Athens of Shakespeare’s aristocratic lovers, or the enchanted forest of the fairies, but the mundane surroundings of the stagehands in their janitorial jumpsuits. ??Dillon’s Dream has a sort of found-object approach to its magical stage effects: When a spell transforms Bottom to part donkey, he dons heavy rubber gloves for ears and what looks like a mop for a mane. Michael Bradley Cohen’s Puck shows a gymnast’s agility as he swings on ropes and seemingly every other prop in reach, while attendants wheel the fairy royalty Oberon and Titania (real-life married couple Mark and Tess Malis Kincaid) on rolling platforms. ??Puck’s love potion causes two Athenian gents (Joe Knezevich and Daniel Thomas May) to fall in love with the wrong women (Sarah M. Johnson and Allison Leigh Corke), and the foursome spend much of the midsummer night gliding and scooting along atop office chairs. The slapstick choreography makes for many cute effects, but the chairs tend to draw attention more than the performers. (Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film adaptation paid similarly obsessive attention to old-timey bicycles.)??Both in their debut season with Georgia Shakespeare, Johnson and Corke have stage presence to spare, but Johnson’s so poised and self-possessed, and Corke so angry and sarcastic, that their acting seems slightly too contemporary for their roles. Kincaid (a last-minute substitute for an injured Brad Sherrill) helps hold the show together with his take on Oberon. The fairy king’s so good-humored, he almost has an Errol Flynn quality, and contrasts with Kincaid’s wrathful Oberon from 2000.
The show’s overall focus belongs to Bottom and company, including hirsute, hilarious Neal Ghant as a miscast leading lady. Kayser offers a deeply zany, deliberately hammy performance, including some uproarious knife work. Bottom’s voice initially sounds like a street-smart New Yorker, and then resembles a buck-toothed Billy Bob Thornton drawl after his transformation. In most productions, Bottom goes over the top, so Kayser inevitably sucks all the air from the room. The imbalance proves reminiscent of an adage about another of Shakespeare’s clowns: “You can’t have Falstaff and not have him fat.”

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