Threadbare touring ‘Midsummer’ cleverly put together for teens

The Utah Shakespeare Festival Educational Tour is offering an 80-minute, teen-oriented version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and it succeeds, I think, for a simple reason: Director Melinda Pfundstein has made the text the star.

It’s not that she hasn’t added plenty of physical comedy. Visual gags abound, but they all feel born of the story.

“Midsummer” is an easy script for teenagers to understand. Lovers escape the confines of court (home) so that they can have some freedom in the woods (the outside world). They meet up with fairies, supernatural potions, overeager suitors, and, finally, their true loves.

Pfundstein creates a romantic atmosphere, but what’s surprising is how sensual this world is. Some of the characters can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Yet the passions, while obvious, are not explicit. Parents are not likely to object if they’re at least willing to recognize that boys are sometimes attracted to girls.

It’s a threadbare production, but cleverly put together. Seven actors portray all the roles, backed by a series of loudly colored, mobile flats that often suggest the magic of the surroundings. The performances are on a higher level than we’ve grown to expect from USF tours.

Kristen Henley is an intriguing Puck: Her ever-twitching body and overly eager eyes convince us she’s a likable fairy enjoying some naughty mischief.

Jennifer Whipple is an elegant Hermia, whose pain at being separated from her lover feels genuine.

Will Mobley is a humorously boyish Lysander, who demonstrates ability with both the comedic and dramatic aspects of his leading-man character.

And as the hysterically egotistical Bottom, the working-class guy who gets turned into an ass, Ron Thomas milks the part for all it’s worth. It’s easy to believe his IQ is not quite up to snuff with the members of the court.

I enjoyed the show as a “preview” of the real thing. Don’t expect depth. But I have little doubt the production will give novice theatergoers a clear glimpse of what Shakespeare is all about.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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