By Carly Megan Shaffer, Herndon High School
“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.” Running Dog Productions of Stone Bridge High School put on an enchanting performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Dec. 2
A timeless comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written by William Shakespeare between 1595 and 1596. The play tells four stories simultaneously: the upcoming marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Queen Hippolyta; the romantic adventures and misadventures of Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius; the meddlesome fairies that inhabit the woods where the play is set; and the goofy shenanigans of a troupe of actors, called the Mechanicals. With its lighthearted humor and themes of dreams, magic, and of course, love, it is no wonder that Midsummer is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works. Since its publication, it has played on stages all over the world.
Stone Bridge’s production, directed by student Paisley LoBue, featured a unique twist on a classic tale. The entire play existed as the fantasy of a young Indian boy. He entertained woodland fairies by reading their fortunes on a deck of tarot cards. The audience watched as the fortunes unfolded onstage in “real life.” The set (designed and painted by Katie Bushman) was customized to fit the tarot card reading. The stage was outfitted in an array of giant, elaborate cards, each of which was painted with a different character from the play. The images were tailored to this cast, with each painted character looking and dressing like the corresponding actor. It was a breathtaking sight to watch LoBue’s creative vision play out in the show.
“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Shakespeare said, and this was illustrated by the genuine but funny relationships between the characters. Gillian Kniley and Sam Fremin (as Hermia and Lysander, respectively) were especially outstanding. Their affection for each other was evident, and one couldn’t help but cheer when they received their happy ending. Susanna Major and James Good (Helena and Demetrius) were equally entertaining. Major’s unrelenting energy in her dogged pursuit of Good, and his original disgust for her, sent the audience into fits of laughter. One more talented twosome was Katie Bushman and Ainsley Steger (Hippolyta and Athens). Their flirtatious interactions cast them as the perfect slightly-obnoxious-but-adorable newlyweds.
The actors’ physicality in the show was incredible. The sword-fighting between Lysander and Demetrius over Helena was so realistic that it made the audience fear for the actors’ safety. It was inspiring to see Hermia draw her own sword in an attempt to protect herself from the two men, taking a feminist stance in a patriarchal society.
The ensembles of the show shone like stars. The Mechanicals, led by Maxx Peak (as Nick Bottom) were utterly hilarious, especially in their own show-within-the-show. Peak’s constant antics and playful mockery of his companions made his performance one of the highlights of the night. Another glittering group was the Fairies, whose presence gave the show a whimsical touch. Their elegant singing and dancing in their “Lullaby” brought a welcome musical moment to the straight play. Taylor Stevens stood out as Puck; his mischievous excitement made him a delight to watch.
With its stunning set, gifted performers, and mirthful humor, Stone Bridge’s Midsummer was truly a dream.
[ This review of the Dec. 2 performance at Stone Ridge High School is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theatre and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]