After “Much Ado About Nothing” and “As You Like It” the past two years, director Kate Mendeloff, her team of Residential College Players and other local actors are returning to where they started five years ago: to the most beloved and perhaps the most bizarre of Shakespeare’s comedies, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This fifth production of Shakespeare in the Arb, presented by the University’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Nichols Arboretum and the Residential College, is as lively and enjoyable as ever, providing the unusual and thoroughly laudable combination of fine arts and the great outdoors.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is perhaps the perfect play for this setting. With the majority of its action outdoors, the presentation is more realistic than most. The rugged scenery of the Arb lends itself perfectly to the adaptation and provides more of a feel for the action than any theater, no matter how grand. Though it may seem tedious at first, walking the winding forest trails to move from one set to another turns out to be quite enjoyable and provides the audience with a sense of involvement in the play’s action.
While the actors should be commended for their exceptional voice projection, it’s nearly impossible to perfectly comprehend Shakespearian dialogue at a distance in the open air (especially with the ambient noise of the Arb). For this reason, knowledge of the play beforehand goes a long way in understanding the various conflicts and situational comedy.
Still, even the passing observer can get the gist of the action relatively easily, thanks to the exuberant gestures liberally employed by the actors. Indeed, even for the daydreamer, little of the humor is lost, which can be attributed to the skill of the production. Stealing the show is the bumbling, overly confident and downright hilarious Nick Bottom, the weaver whose unfortunate gaffes yield many laughs.
It would be wise to remember that, no matter how nice the weather, much of this play is set in the woods. Bug spray is a must, and folding chairs along with a bottle of water couldn’t hurt. Plenty of time is allowed between the start of on-site ticket sales and the (figurative) raising of the curtain for the audience to picnic and get into the mood of the show. But even so, nearly three hours in the forest — most of which is spent in the blazing sun — can become rather fatiguing.
While strolling through various settings of the Arb, with its the colorful peony garden and meandering forest trails, the audience is left in amazement that so much nature could be present within a short walk from the hustle and bustle of central campus. Compliments to Residential College drama instructor and director Kate Mendeloff for creating an experience that is enriching in more ways than one.