If there’s only one thing you do this week, it should be to find time to get to Chelsea’s PORT Park to catch Apollinaire Theatre Company’s practically perfect (and free) production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It isn’t only that this outdoor production takes full and inventive advantage of Chelsea’s unique waterfront landscape, but it also features a deliriously funny ensemble of actors who—under the thrilling direction of Danielle Fauteux Jacques—quite literally make magic under the summer stars.
Hermia (Olivia Z. Cote) and Lysander (Jon Vellante) are in love and wish to marry but Hermia’s father, Egeus (Tony Dangerfield), has already promised her to Demetrius (John Manning). Despite the young lovers’ protestations, Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Demetrius Fuller) rules that Hermia must either follow her father’s wishes, live out her life as a nun, or be put to death. Hermia’s best friend, Helena (a scene-stealing Kelly Young), was engaged to Demetrius before he was set up with Hermia, and she’s still madly in love with him despite the fact that he has moved on to Hermia. Lysander and Hermia decide to elope and set off into the woods, a magical place filled with mischievous fairies. Demetrius takes off in pursuit of Hermia and the scorned Helena runs after Demetrius, intent on winning him back.
Also traveling through the woods are a group of “rude mechanicals” who are rehearsing for a play that they are to perform at the upcoming wedding of Theseus. (The five laborers turned actors are played with comic perfection by Joey C. Pelletier, Brooks Reeves, Samuel Warton, David Picariello, and Erik P. Kraft.)
The king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania (played by the terrific Cassie Foote and Michael John Ciszewski), are having a spat of their own, and Oberon enlists his magical sprite, Puck (Benjamin Finn), to enact some revenge on Titania. There is a flower in the enchanted woods that, when brushed over the eyes of someone as they sleep, will cause the person to fall in love with the first thing they see when they wake up. Oberon has Puck rub the flower over Titania’s eyes and, having overheard Helena begging Dimitrius to take her back, Oberon tells Puck to intervene. But Puck gets it wrong and applies the flower to Lysander instead, causing chaos (and hilarity) among the four lovers. Puck also decides to have a little bit of fun while he’s at it and turns Bottom, one of the laborers, into a donkey. (Can you guess who Titania will first gaze upon when he wakes?) By play’s end, as you might imagine, spells are reversed, the lovers are set right, Titania and Oberon reconcile, and the mechanicals’ play is finally performed at the wedding of Theseus.
I love everything about this production, and that includes its first-rate cast. John Vellante, John Manning, Kelly Young, and Olivia Z. Cote have blissful comedic camaraderie, as do Brooks Reeves, Joey C. Pelletier, and the band of laborers. The genders of Oberon and Titania have been flipped for this production (if fairies have genders at all)—Cassie Foote is a formidable, punkish Oberon and Michael John Ciszewski is a delicious Titania, the fairy queen who has been reimagined as, well, a big queen. Benjamin Finn has just the right of mischievous pep as Puck.
The first and third acts are performed at the grassy amphitheater where the lushness of plants and flowers add natural, indispensable ambiance. For the second act, the audience is moved to one of the giant salt mounds where set designer Marc Poirier has constructed a cribwork playing space made out of World War II-era fir timbers. Illuminated by Chris Bocchiaro, the massive playing space looks undeniably magical. Susan Paino’s costumes, too, get everything right. David Reiffel has composed a bit of original music for this production (as he did for last year’s production at Actors’ Shakespeare Project), and it is performed by Fernando Barbosa (who also doubles as a fairy) on a piano mounted on an actual pile of salt. The music gives the production an added layer of mysticality that, when paired with the sounds of the Chelsea River rippling just feet behind the audience, makes the experience feel very dreamlike.
With just one bathroom and intermissions only long enough to allow the audience to move to the next location, at least one longer break is needed. And if you’re bringing a picnic, arrive extra early as the first act runs for only 20 minutes before you’ll need to abandon it and move over to the salt mounds.
Those two points aside, there is no better way to spend a summer evening right now than with Apollinaire in Chelsea. This Midsummer is transportive, serene, and one of the best productions of 2018. It is two hours of nonstop joy I would wish on anyone.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. THROUGH 7.29 AT APOLLINAIRE THEATRE COMPANY AT PORT PARK, 99 MARGINAL ST., CHELSEA. APOLLINAIRETHEATRE.COM