Long Wharf staging of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ offers fresh twist on Shakespeare classic

Lauren Flaum

Making Shakespeare fresh and accessible to a young generation of audiences can often be a grueling task. That is why the Long Wharf Theatre’s latest production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” goes above and beyond expectation.

Directed by Kim Rubinstein, the production ran from Sept. 14 through Oct. 9 in New Haven at the Long Wharf Theatre’s Mainstage.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story, Hermia (Mia Barron) and Lysander (Jason Denuszek) are in love and want to marry, but her father insists that she marry Demetrius (Markus Potter), who happens to be the object of Helena’s (Cheyenne Casabier) affection.

The lovers escape to an enchanted forest to marry and find freedom, but they are followed closely by their friends. When a group of mischievous fairies begins to cast spells, the comical confusion begins.

This take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy featured enough of the traditional elements to please the older crowd, but plenty of new devices and humor to keep a younger crowd happy.

This is one production where the set definitely played a starring role. With a floor of plush green grass, the stage transforms from the opening Athens set into a magical forest in just a few seconds. The difference is striking. A flurry of leaves falls from above while a star-filled sky emerges and the giant orb of a moon is rolled out upstage, while what looked like columns in Athens before now appear as trees.

Once the action moves to the forest, the atmosphere of the play changes. It is more than the set that helps to achieve this effect. Due credit should be given to the fairies, the first two of whom (Jenny Weaver and Diane Mair) shimmer and flit about onstage with an ethereal quality that would give Tinkerbelle a run for her money.

There’s also a fairy queen, Titania (Christina Rouner) and her partner Oberon (Tom Nelis), which deserve mention. Titania embodies a regal quality that befits her grand entrance. She commands all of the attention onstage is nothing less than wondrous to look at. Oberon is slightly less convincing, although he certainly looks the part with a wild hairdo, dressed all in black.

The costumes themselves are imaginative, modern and full of color. The four lovers in the show have looks ranging from preppy to urban-hip. Demetrius looked pulled together in a tan suit with loafers, while Helena sported a short flirty dress with bright socks and Converse sneakers. Even Titania, with her long gown with train had a more updated quality-a pair of shiny silver leggings. And the two attendant fairies looked simply entrancing. Think red hair weaved with multicolored strands and lots of sparkles.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the whole play is the Craftsmen, who perform a play within a play, and provide 99 percent of the comic relief. Nick Bottom (Bill Raymond) practically stole the show with his endearing antics and portrayal of Pyramus in the player’s skit.