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Company presents lively 'Dream'

Shakespeare's comedy of love and magic runs long, but rarely drags.

Francesca Chapman of Patriot-News

The clouds hung gray and threatening over Reservoir Park, but the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival's opening-night production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was defiantly bright and energetic at the outdoor Levitt Pavilion on Friday.

Shakespeare's comedy of love among aristocrats and woodland creatures was performed with verve and freat confidence in J. Clark Nicholson's roduction, which moves the action from ancient Greece to a more contemporary setting, albeit one with dukes, queens and spell-casting fairies.

It opens on a group of young lovers, on the eve of a wedding. There's trouble already: Hermia (Alexis Dow) is being forced to marry Demetrius (Matthew Lorenz), her father's choice for her husband, though she loves Lysander (Jeremy A. Wingle); and Demetrius can't shake Helena (Jacquie Williams), who loves him despite his utter disinterest.

Hermia and Lysander run off togehter to the woods. There, a bumbling troupe of actors is rehearsing a play for the duke's wedding, and Oberon (Doug Durlacher) and Titania (Danielle Liccardo), king and queen of a mischievous band of fairies, are arguing. In an effort to smooth things over, Oberon has his hench-fairy Puck (Mark Robinson) splash around some love potion, and naturally - mistakes are made.

All the wrong people fall in love, including Titania. She becomes besotted with the actor Bottom (Kent McNeillie), whom puck has, just for yucks, turned into a donkey. A lot of silliness follows before Oberon can make things right.

The Shakespeare Festival has cast some marvelous performers in the play's showiest roles. As Puck, Robinson is a maniacal, acrobatic presence, jumping down from a wall or out of a Dumpster to ake trouble. Durlacher gives his Oberon a soulful twist, wailing his lines like Robert Plant. McNeillie goes gamely for the biggest laughs, as both an overreaching actor and a guy who learns to love the donkey lifestyle. Liccardo is terrific as the powerful fairy queen, reduced to making googly eyes at Bottom.

And though, as an earnest lover, she doesn't get many laugh lines, Dow makes Hermia - a headstrong young woman in pigtails - a force to be reckoned with.

Even the background players in this production are noteworthy: the raucous fairies double as musicians and singers, playing rustic but graceful tunes by Melissa Dunphy.

At just under three hours, with one 15-minute intermission, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a long night of theater. But this production is staged with so much gusto that it very rarely drags. Whether Titania is belting her lines from the back row of the audience, or Puck is leaping from the stage to the concrete apron below, it's hard to imagine the company can keep up this exciting level of energy. Better catch "A Midsummer Night's Dream" before Puck blows out a knee.

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