The Young Artists Ensemble doest shine in their first ever debut of a Shakespeare play
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Showing that the troupe isn’t afraid of anything, the Young Artists Ensemble just brought Shakespeare to the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks during the play’s first weekend run. I admire their choice to take on such challenging dialog, and to do so in such a fun and comedic way. Saturday night’s audience was treated to a well-rehearsed and thoughtfully arranged play that should satisfy any fans of the Bard. And lest you think this is just a kids show, I must remind you that we are watching artists doing their art. The cast is very talented and the director has created something special in this production.
For those of you that know the play, you know the shenanigans revolve around the misdeeds of a well-meaning sprite named Puck. Sarah Hathaway delivers this character with the enthusiasm characteristic of the sprite himself. As an actress, she goes over the top to sell the fun nature of Puck. Playing an excited role in Shakespeare means delivering a lot of challenging lines very quickly, and Hathaway nailed it! Her costuming was great too and she looked every bit like a playful sprite.
Puck’s interference centers around the 4 lovers; Hermia (Allison Zatlin), Lysander (Jeremy Graham Orriss), Helena (Bailey Stillwell), and Demetrius (John Monday). All four delivered strong performances and carried much of the play. The casting of Zatlin and Orriss was, in itself, funny due to their disparity in heights. The lines about stature fit them to a T. Zatlin shines as a strong-willed Hermia, and she owned the stage with her confident delivery. It almost sounded like she speaks that way all the time. She wraps her lines in an honest physical expression of her rage and love, making for a very complete performance. If Shakespeare had written about surfers, he would have chosen Orriss to perform them. Rarely do we hear shakespearian actors speak the prose with such a laid-back feel…”how tasty are thine waves oh lonely ocean…”. Stillwell’s portrayal of the lovestruck Helena reminded me of how any teenager might feel when their love interest doesn’t even know she’s alive, but the play shows Helena to be a relentless pursuer of her love. Stillwell’s dramatic style emerges most when she believes that the professed love of Lysander and Demetrius is a cruel joke. She carried the scene like a true woman scorned. As Demetrius, I appreciated Monday’s understated depiction early in the play. It would seem natural for an actor to want to shine above the other actors on the stage, but Monday stays in character as the droll man refused by Hermia. By playing it straight early on, it made his scene of spellbinding love to Helena all that much funnier. The cold and logical man goes love crazy!
Lying alongside the main plot line of the story is a group of starving actors from a local acting troupe that are preparing a play for the Duke. These scenes were nearly all stolen by Ariel McIntyre as Nick Bottom. The pompousness and dramatic flair she brought to this role is truly hilarious. From wanting to play every role in the play to being turned into an ass by Puck, McIntyre’s Bottom remained aloof and ever-positive. The troupe was rounded out by Ben Rosen, Max Meyers, Sean McCarthy, Logan Grizzle, and Peyton Pugh. A highlight for this group was Meyers’ depiction of the lovely Thisbe in the troupe’s play. With makeup that would have rivaled Tammy Fay Baker, his performance won’t be soon forgotten. Their play was performed for the Court that included Theseus (Drake Nienow), Hippolyta (Lotte Bezemer), Philostrate (Zoe Fagundes), and the father of Hermia, Egeus (Wyatt Eaton).
The third sub-plot revolves around a groups of fairies and an apparent spat between Oberon (Nick Rada) and Titiana (Tegan Morely). Married fairies can be complicated. As fighting fairies, they are sternly played, but each gets a moment of fancy. Morely’s depiction of Titiana’s love for Bottom (an ass at the time, thanks to Puck) is noteworthy and hilarious. Rada’s character also seems to delight in this spectacle. The fairies are played by Samantha Green, Emma Gonzales, Andrea Levenson, Lauren Alexander, Kyle Lobenhoffer, Jenna Guerrero, Rainny Vasquez, and Ashley Brown. They flit in and out of scenes as fairies are want to do, often dancing or singing.
A few other notes of praise are due to the production department. First, the costuming is fantastic (Bianca Jansen), particularly with the fairies. Each had a different look and it helped set them apart. The lighting department (Mark Andrew Reyes / Micah Meyers) deserves mention for how the scenes were set. In particular, the scenes in the fairy world were so well done with the lighting. It really transformed the scenes. I also loved the sound effects, which were done by the cast of fairies using a makeshift assortment of noisemakers. They brought much drama and light to much of the play. Finally, recognition is due to Director Megan McDonough. It takes a lot of confidence in your cast to bring Shakespeare to youth theater. Your confidence was rewarded with a fantastic performance.
The verdict? Go see this play! A Midsummer Night’s Dream Runs Friday – Sunday through May 17th. For more information, see www.YAEonline.com. For more photos, see the Chillin’ in the Conejo Facebook Page