For someone who readily admits to not really liking Shakespeare, I sure am enjoying the Bard this year—first from the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society, and now from Shakespeare in the Garden and directed by Rachel Kelly.
The Santa Fe Botanical Garden has populated its beautiful stage setup once again this summer with a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the fantastical comedy of errors, the second season for the company (a merging of The Shakespeare Guild and Shakespeare in Santa Fe). Boasting heartily about their nationally sourced cast, however, the finest performances perhaps came from local talent as opposed to that trucked in from out of state.
Before I get too far into the details of this one, let's get some advice out of the way first: Bring a jacket. Like, maybe even a winter coat. (It was 66 degrees by the time I left after the show, and I'd been sitting still, so it made for almost teeth-chattering weather.) And, if you have the time and the means, absolutely bring a swank picnic dinner and enjoy it in the garden before the performance. There are tons of little crannies and benches to tuck yourself into with a bottle of fizzy water and a charcuterie; garden gates open at 6 pm, so that gives you an hour and half among the plants with a roving Renaissance soundtrack from music director Mary Outten.
As previously mentioned, this is indeed the second season for Shakespeare in the Garden, and here's another confession for you: I was underwhelmed by its first. Last year's The Tempest was lackluster and dragged considerably—so, while aesthetically amazing, it left me wanting. I expected better this year, but wasn't holding my breath.
Of course, turns out I could have done so after all.
With utterly dazzling costuming (brava, designer Jasminka Jesic!) and a decidedly physical take on the show—there's a lot of dancing and throwing each other around, some of which borders on the acrobatic—the cast skews young and supple as the actors run all over the stage, up and down the aisles, and stay in character long after leaving the stage due to "wings" that are simply the garden trails.
Perhaps the most exciting turn came from Dylan Fitzpatrick, whose work I've admired previously at the Santa Fe Playhouse and the Adobe Rose Theatre, where he was credited as Dylan Norman. Fitzpatrick, whose talent defies his young age, presented a towering Oberon, tossing Puck (Georgia Waehler) around like a rag doll and lending his singing voice, one of my favorites in town, to musical interludes.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of Fitzpatrick's performance, however, was a moment as Theseus toward the end of the play. I don't think I've ever seen a production of Midsummer in which Theseus and Hippolyta weren't just throwaway characters that only served to move the plot—but here, Theseus gets such emotional depth and poignancy in Fitzpatrick's portrayal that afterward, I find myself thinking of his lines perhaps more than those of any other character. That's weird. But cool.
Beyond Fitzpatrick, the cast didn't disappoint. While I found Waehler's Puck a little too precious and spritely—which sounds silly to say about a character that is a literal fairy, but still, it grew exhausting—the imported actress exhibited great skill and physical prowess in the role. I admit, she was precisely what 90 percent of Midsummer directors would dream of for Robin Goodfellow, and I doubt the Tisch student will get away with never playing this part again.
The two main couples—Miranda Lichtman and Daniel Cabrera as Hermia and Lysander, opposite Miranda Savage and Hania Stocker (The Normal Heart, The Crucible) as Helena and Demetrius—were also delightful. Their personalities were strong and palpable, Cabrera's whining to be cut with a knife and Stocker's necessary scoffing bringing many laughs from the audience. Lichtman and Savage, as well, foil each other nicely; Lichtman as the glowing damsel to make men swoon, and Savage—while equally as beautiful—treated to a young-looking hairstyle and adopting adolescent mannerisms that lent her lanky fame the awkwardness that would inspire Demetrius to roll his eyes. One particularly well-choreographed scene between the four, which saw legs and arms in knots and faces mushed against each other as they simultaneously fought each other and attempted to make peace, caused the audience to burst into applause mid-scene.
In general, it's a safe question to ask: Why do Midsummer? A curtain speech from Brennan Foster, who played a passable Bottom, made particular mention of celebrating the play's 425th-ish birthday. Overall, Midsummer is a silly and perhaps even vapid piece (the least favorite Shakespearian work of many theater-folk friends of mine), yet is continually presented again and again in gardens around the world. And Shakespeare is so easy to screw up, even by otherwise good actors. Why bother? Of course, other than to simply be sure audiences will show up, because every mother's son read this story in freshman year English class?
Here, we see it's because it's still fun, can be made incredibly beautiful, calls for nimble and capable movement actors and because it lends itself to music and gaiety. (The musical interludes at worst felt forced, but were always mercifully short; at best, they did add occasional magic to scenes.) You only have a few more chances to catch Shakespeare in the Garden this year, but if we could drive you there ourselves, we would. (Just bring a jacket.)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
7:30 pm Thursday-Sunday Aug. 30-Sept. 2. $10-$45. Santa Fe Botanical Garden, 715 Camino Lejo, 471-9103; tickets here.