By Nancy Grossman, Broadway World
All of the stress of spending three and a half hours in Saturday traffic bound for Cape Cod melted away in short order after a warm welcome from the staff of Elements Theatre Company and their B&B-style guest house adjacent to Rock Harbor in Orleans. Separated from the road by a wide expanse of green lawn and a driveway of crushed white seashells, the sprawling two-story cape has been lovingly restored and updated to accommodate visitors to the Church of the Transfiguration and the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical Christian community in the Benedictine monastic tradition. Founded in 1992, Elements Theatre Company is a resident ensemble made up of members of the community which performs year-round at Paraclete House on the church grounds.
Kicking off a year-long tribute to William Shakespeare, Elements is performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for two weekends (remaining shows are August 16, 17, and 18 at 7:30 pm), followed by an educational tour in New York City, a sonnet project (The Word Made Flesh) to record all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a full-scale production of King Lear next summer. Thanks to Set Designers Sarah Andre and Sr. Sarah Allen and their set construction and set painting crews, a large hall at Paraclete House is magically converted into a modern day New York City apartment and Central Park. A painted backdrop evokes the city skyline upstage, while a raised, circular synthetic grass-covered platform, under a ring of streamers and paper lanterns suspended from the ceiling, serves as the park. It is at once festive and simple, with additional atmosphere provided by dry ice fog and the sound of chirping birds. Costumes are artfully designed (by Amy Mitchell, Mary French, and Gail Gibson) and constructed in-house.
Director Sr. Danielle Dwyer has made Dream accessible by choosing to set the story in modern day New York. It works well for distinguishing between the two locales: the court of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and the woods, home to a band of fairies ruled over by King Oberon and Queen Titania. Many in the cast play dual roles, first representing a character in the court, and then appearing as the mirror image in the woods. The members of an acting troupe known as The Mechanicals also play Titania’s fairy servants; as such, they wear the most colorful costumes of tights and tulle, with funky headpieces, and speak in the style of verse called “catalectic trochaic tetrameter” which sounds like harmonic buzzing.
Brad Lussier gives a nuanced performance as the autocratic Duke and the softer Oberon. While her Hippolyta stands in the shadows of Theseus, Ellen Ortolani dives into the role of the free-spirited Titania and makes a splash. Rachel McKendree is appropriately strident as Egea, mother to Hermia, but down-to-earth as Peter Quince, the leader of The Mechanicals. Of the four young lovers, Sarah Hale (Helena) is the most natural and consistent, and Kyle Norman (Lysander) is ardent and likable. Jeremy Haig (Demetrius) is rather wooden and Lindsey Kanaga (Hermia) is convincing, but sometimes shrill. Kate Shannon transforms from Theseus’ uptight aide-de-camp Philostrate into Oberon’s servant Puck, but her choice to play the fairy not so much as an imp, but more like an ogre didn’t work for me.
Br. Stephen Velie is a standout as Bottom and pumps air into every scene in which he appears. His physicality, comedic skills, and ability to project add to his presence. He shares great chemistry with the other Mechanicals, especially Peter Haig (Flute), a clear audience favorite when he takes the stage dressed in drag as Thisbe and cavorts in red high-heeled shoes. Sr. Phoenix Catlin and Stephanie Haig, who are also credited with selecting the music for the production, round out the troupe, along with Chipper the dog. Numerous musical excerpts are from Felix Mendehlsonn, with additional pieces by Grieg, Mozart, Chopin, Britten, Ravel, and Beethoven, to name a few. The entire company participates in a joyous finale of The Weasley Stomp from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by Nicholas Hopper.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an excellent choice for a summer production at a venue by the shore. This was my first experience with Elements Theatre Company and their professionalism and commitment to their craft are unmistakable. Theirs is a labor of love, stemming from their ecumenical foundation and their beliefs, as well as their mission to explore existential questions through the art of storytelling before an audience. Combining the elements of hard work and love of what they are doing results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Add in the culinary artistry of the pre-show dinner and the friendly, relaxed atmosphere, and the total package is a worthwhile Cape getaway.