Far from the same old 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

Friday, October 24, 2003
King Oberon, played by Nick Cutelli, wears plenty of feathers in the University Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which also stars Mike Culbertson as Puck.

The University Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" takes place in a magical place where time can stand still, where mortals and spirits alike are enthralled by visions of earthy sensuality and love, and trees glow from the tittering fairies that sometimes inhabit them.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" has been staged so often an original version is difficult to imagine. But the wondrous production opening tonight at the Rose Theatre is just that. The admission price, nearly double the amount the University Theatre usually charges for a show, is worth it.

In many ways this "Midsummer Night's Dream" delivers the promise made when the Department of Theatre and Dance was created only two years ago. The set, sound and lighting design, music, costumes, choreography, direction and acting conspire to transform the Rose Theatre stage into a world never seen before.

Rhonda Weller-Stilson's primeval set and outrageous costumes astound. King Oberon (Nick Cutelli) and Queen Titania (Alexandria M. Miller) appear in clothing reminiscent of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, the legendary New Orleans band that dressed in Mardi Gras Indian regalia. You can never have too many feathers.

When the mechanicals -- Daniel Boughton as Peter Quince, Tim Nicolai as Nick Bottom, Jason B. Penrod as Francis Flute, A.P. Baldwin as Tim Snout, Julius Sims as Snug and Lucas Walker as Robin Starveling -- appear at the end to present their play to the royal court -- half the laughter lies in how they're dressed.

Sometimes in a student production of Shakespeare the actors don't seem to know what Shakespeare is talking about, a confusion easily passed on to the audience. That is nowhere in evidence here thanks to co-director Dr. Robert W. Dillon Jr.'s doing.

Fairy tales

The impact of co-director Paul Zmolek, a dance professor, on the performance is obvious in the abandon of the physical humor and the balletic movements of the fairies (Meredith R. Lape, Gelanie A. Lockhart, Emily F. Brown and Meagan Edmonds).

Many directors cast an impish sprite in the role of Puck, the fairy world denizen who does the dirty work for King Oberon and Queen Titania. This Puck (Mike Culbertson) has more of a kinship with John Belushi in "Animal House." Dillon and Zmolek avoid romantic images without robbing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" of its romance.

Dr. Robert Fruehwald's original music for the production creates moods and announces entrances. It works organically, never calling attention to itself.

Sound is used well in this production, particularly to signal Puck's spellbinding. Southeast's new sound designer, Philip Nacy, is an immediate contributor.

But the faculty has showcased, not outshone, their students. In a college career of memorable comedic turns, Tim Nicolai surpasses himself as Nick Bottom, the ham who is turned into an ass.

Adam Rutledge is unchallengably regal as Theseus, Duke of Athens, even in wedding shoes buckled with lace.

Katharine M. Stricker as Hermia and Alica Webb as Helena mix it up in an unforgettable catfight. When Stricker's Hermia wants a man, Lysander (James VonDielingen), she latches on. Helena sometimes is portrayed as a love-starved loser. Webb's Helena becomes a firebrand.

VonDielingen and Stephen Fister as rival Demetrius are excellent in the roles, but it's questionable whether these men deserve such passionate women.

Performing well-served smaller roles are Cari B. Van Amburg as Hippolyta, Bryan Parker as Hermia's father, Egeus, and Matthew Vaughn as Philostrate, master of Theseus' revels.

Also contributing is Josephine A. Zmolek, who designed and built the masks and headdresses.


335-6611, extension 182

Want to go?

What: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Thursday and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1; 2 p.m. Nov. 2

Where: Rose Theatre, Grauel Building, Cape Girardeau

Admission: $15 general, $24 for faculty, staff and senior citizens, $13 for students. Discounts are available on pre-sale tickets only. Phone 651-2265.

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