Hex in the City

By Lee Roscoe, Cape Cod Times

Elements Theatre Company has made Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” new, fresh, majestic and magical.

Director Danielle Dwyer sets the piece in present-day New York City, a very original, yet very Elizabethan, take on the witchery of the fairy world, and it works perfectly.

Most of the actors in this Shakespeare cast speak with superb clarity and the words, as actor Brad Lussier (Oberon/Theseus) noted at a talk-back Friday night, create the action and character. More than mere declaration, the actors show they believe in the reality of their situations — the pain, anger, frustration — and this ability, along with an abundance of excellent physical theater, makes the comedy come alive.

It’s a typical convoluted Shakespeare plot: Hermia wants to marry Lysander against her mother’s wishes. Mother pleads with Theseus, the not-so-modest king of Athens, to prevent the marriage. Hermia and Lysander decide to elope, ending up in the fairyland of the woods.

Meanwhile, Hermia’s best friend, Helena, loves Demetrius, who loves Hermia and hates Helena. As Helena pursues Demetrius, they too end up in the midnight woodlands. At the same time, a troupe of “rude mechanicals,” workingmen turned actors, rehearses a play in the same fairy woods.

Also there is Oberon, the King of Shadows (or fairies), who has argued with his stubborn Queen Titania (Ellen Ortolani) over a changeling he wants as his page. Titania is surrounded by an eerie, chanting entourage of the spirits of plants and cobwebs. Oberon summons his indentured sprite Puck (played more as demon than angel by Kate Shannon) to find the proper herbs with which to cast spells. Those herbs wreak havoc not just on Titania, but on everyone in the woods that night. “Reason and love keep little company,” notes Bottom, one of the workers.

Sarah Hale portrays Helena’s unrequited love and maidenly outrage with hilarious credibility. Lysander (Kyle Norman) and Demetrius (Jeremy Haig) pull off nastiness while still somehow maintaining their gallantry. But the two most charismatic performers are Lussier and then Stephen Velie as Bottom, providing a vivid counterbalance of dark magic and light buffoonery.

The play offers indelible poetry, such as when Puck says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.” Or when Oberon gives one of my favorite speeches ever, the one that includes “I know a place where the wild thyme grows.”

With the Elements production, the somewhat institutional theater-in-the-round is made intimate, transformed by streamers, colored lanterns, fog and imaginative costumes of regal greens and purples.

Come and be enchanted.