Freeport Theatre Festival presents ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in nature’s setting
By Rex Rutkoski
Published: Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 7:57 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Summer eves on the Steele farm can be magical.
June bugs, moonlight and the sounds of nature stir in this pastoral setting in Allegheny Township.
It is an environment in which the enchantment of a popular work such as William Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” which makes its Freeport Theatre Festival debut Friday through Sunday — continuing Fridays through Sundays through July 22 — promises to find fulfillment, director Marushka Steele says.
Cast member Matt Hooks of Allegheny Township finds presenting any play enjoyable at Freeport Theatre Festival, because of the atmosphere and the setting, but he believes it is especially appropriate for “Midsummer,” which portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta.
It includes the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors, who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set.
“The nightly serenade of the crickets will provide a memorable backdrop to the ears of our audience members,” he says.
Hooks portrays the affable Lysander, one of the four lovers the audience encounters, a true romantic who woos with his words.
Although it was written centuries ago, the story resonates for audiences. “The characters burst from the stage and create vivid impressions that will last beyond the performance,” he says.
Tom Abbott of Natrona Heights, who has the role of Peter Quince, carpenter, playwright and director, is approaching the Bard with a smile on his face. “You have to have fun. This play is all about that, not a tragedy or something serious,” he reasons. “It is the perfect summertime escape. And I think that is what Shakespeare intended.”
By whatever intent, Steele is pleased to have Shakespeare finally spend time on the farm on which she and her husband, playwright Rennick Steele, have presented summer theater for 23 years. The two-play season continues with Rennick Steele's comedy, “Tusks and Tails,” opening Aug. 10 and running Fridays through Sundays through Aug. 26.
It is most satisfying to begin with “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” Marushka Steele says, “one of the world's comic masterpieces by arguably the world's greatest playwright.”
“We are approaching the Bard as our theatrical forefather who was an actor who would probably join us for a potent potable after the show at the local watering hole. He is totally accessible.”
“We have a cast of players who I believe would even charm Shakespeare,” she adds.
Steele believes “Midsummer” has stood the test of time because of its humanity. People relate to it, she says, because of shared experiences that transcend time and space.
The intimate space of the theater allows everyone to share each performance much in the manner in which Shakespeare was originally produced, says Matt Leslie of Butler, who is the mischievous fairy Puck. His character reminds us to “take joy in living because life is full of entertainment,” he says.
“Marushka's vision celebrates the beautiful and playful nature that has made ‘Midsummer' a timeless classic,” Leslie adds.
Steele is approaching it in the spirit of Shakespeare's time, when the theater audience was not isolated from the actors. The actors are surrounded by people, and they address the audience directly, through soliloquies, prologues, epilogues, music and dance.
“The audience's complicity is assumed,” Steele says.
On the Elizabethan stage, there was nowhere they could hide, and that is most decidedly the case at Freeport Theatre Festival, Steele assures.
“It was an exciting time in the history of the theater, when folks would pay a penny to see a play, and stand and lean upon the apron of the stage and interact with the actors and the arguments presented,” she says. “Of course, the queen, aristocrats and merchants could pay more for seating in the upper tiers. We are attempting to recreate that excitement and vigor.”
An excited Myriah Wiltrout of Jefferson says she is “more than thrilled” to be part of her first Shakespearan production. “The language is beautiful and deserves to be presented the way it was written,” she says.
She portrays Hermia, appreciating not only the young girl's strength and confidence, but her vulnerability, as well.
Cathleen Wiltrout, Myriah's mother, has not performed for several years but says she couldn't resist the opportunity to be in a production with her daughter. “I really love doing local, small-town theater — theater that is accessible to everyone. It becomes like family,” she says. She is Titania, Queen of the Fairies. “I love how strong and independent she is, and yet, caring and compassionate,” she says.
“The energy just fills the room. The audience will have no choice but to be swept up in the action,” Myriah Wiltrout says.
It is a joy to see young actors, still appreciate this classic, says Jim Knapick of Saxonburg, who has the role of Nick Bottom, one of the author's “rude mechanicals,” simple townsfolk and craftsmen. A weaver by trade, Bottom also is a self-confident, mistake-prone thespian.
He is aware that Shakespeare “scares many potential playgoers,” and he also has been a skeptic. “But now I say, without reservation, that the man was brilliant and this production will not disappoint,” Knapick says. “It has majesty, young love, whimsy and fantasy, all melded together brilliantly by a master of literature in a way that makes sense.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-226-4664.
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