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Review: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Texas State University

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance critic Cate Blouke.)

The magic of Shakespeare’s verse has provided centuries of directors the opportunity to make each play their own. Down at Texas State University this week, director Chuck Ney makes his mark on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (playing through Sunday the 23rd) with the addition of a meta-theatrical framing device and an anachronistic, hybrid classic-contemporary aesthetic.

The show opens on the bare set of the new Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre. Our contemporary fairy guides enter, meeting for a romantic liaison in the empty theater. In Ney’s playful vision, Puck (Kailyr Frazier) glides across the stage on a skateboard (with impressive control on Frazier’s part). He and his First Fairy playmate (Tori Gresham) romp around the space, donning discarded costume pieces and discovering an ability to transform the set with the snap of a finger. These two Theatre Spirits call forth the play, and we get to watch the space come to life.

Texas State’s production draws on the exciting technical potential of their new performing arts center. Set pieces float gracefully down from the flies, characters emerge from trapdoors, and the surround-sound audio system creates mischief and magic in the space.

The cast is clearly having a great time in this show, and even the supporting characters with a tiny number of lines add rich humor to the piece. Andres Regalado (Philostrate) is hilarious even in silent protest, Kurt Engh (Peter Quince) is delightful in his directorial angst, and Thomas Miller (Francis Flute) proves a charmingly reluctant Thisbe.

The physical comedy in this production is great, with a wonderfully rambunctious scene between the star-crossed lovers (Taylor Scorse, Andrew McVay, Evan Davies, and Roberta Ahrens) opening the second half. Similarly, Drake Shrader deftly takes on the absurd hubris of Nick Bottom, throwing himself vigorously into the role and often onto the ground.

As a teaching institution, Texas State’s productions make a point of providing students with opportunities to learn and grow into well-rounded theater practitioners. In this production, that manifests via several additions of choreographed dances and a careful attention to the ancillary characters.

Some of the unspoken flourishes slow the play down, however, adding a lot of space to an already long play (the run time is close to three hours). Michelle Ney’s costumes are idiosyncratic and often distracting, and the show feels rather choppy overall. In spite of the many charming student performances, I wish I could say I enjoyed watching the show as much as they enjoyed putting it on.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” continues 7:30 p.m. through Nov. 22 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 23. Tickets $15 for adults, $8 for students. Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, Texas State Univ.. 405 Moon St. San Marcos