A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first Shakespeare play that I remember watching. My grandparents had taken me, probably elementary school aged, to watch the performance at Shakespeare in the Park in Seattle. I didn’t realize it then, but the wooded enclave of the outdoor stage was the perfect site to watch fairies flit about mischievously.
Fast forward a few decades, and the creative minds of Tony Cisek (Production Design), Jim Hunter (University of South Carolina), and South Side Design and Building have transformed the National Building Museum into a similarly magical setting.
As I entered the museum, I was whisked into the life size scenes from Midsummer out of the Folger Library’s copy of Joanna Robson’s Knavish Lad concertina. After traveling through the concertina, I was transported into the Playhouse, a two-story temporary stage custom built for the Great Hall. By day, the museum continues its summer tradition of hosting the Summer Block Party and by night, the Playhouse emerges.
The set was beautifully constructed, made all the more beautiful by the grandeur of the National Building Museum, yet there was such a missed opportunity to fully utilize the space. I wish a scene had taken place between the arch of the second floor, or that the museum’s iconic columns could have been trees within the forest. The best use of the space was when the train on Queen Titania’s gown flowed from the second floor to her spot on the Playhouse stage, exuding power and elegance.
And while this production of Midsummer had all the classic characteristics of a Shakespeare comedy (bawdy humor about breasts, physical comedy, and making fun of bottoms), Director Victor Malana Maog tried to fit too many disparate styles of performance into 90 minutes.
Maog added a slight musical and dance component to the production. The Players interspersed their scenes with snippets of blues/folk songs, emphasizing their working class status. In contrast, Puck and the fairies had an eerie magical quality, accentuated by chunky movements and a somewhat discordant soundtrack (original music by Brandon Wolcott). And finally, the lovers of the Court of Athens (Hermia, Lysander, Helen, and Demetrius) often performed the passage of time through modern dance. Instead of creating distinct characters with unique mannerisms, the show felt more like genre whiplash between very different performance styles.
So while the actors put on a great show, filled with the easy laughs of a Shakespeare comedy, I felt that the execution was lacking and I left the performance wanting just a bit more.
Final Grade: B+
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at The National Building Museum through August 28, 2022. Tickets are $20-$85 and can be purchased from the Folger Theatre Box Office at www.folger.edu/theatre or 202-544-7077. The activities for The National Building Museum’s Summer Block Party are accessible with museum admission.
Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission.
COVID Safety Protocols: Well-fitting masks are required at all times inside the theater, and all patrons must show proof of vaccination (picture of vaccine card works).