Everything Music and Theatre brings you the latest Shakespeare from The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, where the Bard’s justly famous romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opened under the stars on a perfect summer’s eve Wednesday, June 21, at the popular Outdoor Stage. Ticket holders picnicked on the lawns and swilled wine in the amphitheater on the College of Saint Elizabeth’s picturesque campus.

Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte—whose simple set and fanciful costume designs, imaginative props, and atmospheric sonorities enlivened this over-the-top production—directs nine lively cast members, eight of whom play two or three roles, in a physically taxing, hilarious crowd pleaser. And, as if you couldn’t ask for anything more, the costumes benefit the environment, deriving from reclaimed material, including thousands of bottle caps and hundreds of recycled compact discs.

Up to no good

Felix Mayes was born to play the impish Puck. The constantly kinetic actor leaps and bounds and cabrioles the entire evening, his movements graceful yet dynamic, plainly arising from Classical ballet and modern dance. He’s everywhere at once, exiting stage left, popping up a moment later at the top of the amphitheater. If it weren’t for Puck’s serial blunders, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” might be just 13 minutes long. Felix Mayes portrays him as a fascinating three-dimensional character.

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Multitasking ladies

The Company’s admirable race-blind casting is also gender-blind in that two of its leading ladies portray male characters among “the Mechanicals.” They are the sleek, statuesque beauty Nike Kadri, who debuted as a most flustered Helena, and the vivaciously athletic Courtney McGowan, as Hermia, whose panoply of vivid facial expressions practically qualifies as a separate cast of characters, each deserving award nominations.

King and Queen of Fairies

Making impressive debuts as the central “royals,” the burnished baritonal Earl Baker Jr. and the elegantly imperious Vanessa Morosco are the feuding King Oberon and Queen Titania, doubling as Theseus, Duke of Athens, soon to be wed to the captive Amazon Hippolyta. They imbued their noble characters with the requisite regality and their spritely alter egos, with refined rascality.

Vying for the same girl

The other two male leads, Athenians Lysander and Demetrius, are earnest Jonathan Finnegan, with crystal-clear diction, and Austin Blunk, who perfectly deploys an overly confident swagger. They team up in Act III, Scene 2, simultaneously fawning over the bewildered Helena, whom they literally place on a Grecian pedestal, the better to collectively bathe both feet with obsequious smooches.

Unforgettable central scene

The ingenious madcap mix-up between both youthful couples in Act III, Scene 2—with its supreme verbal sparring, exceedingly amusing epithets and inventive insults—may just be the whole reason Shakespeare wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” One could never hope to see such abundant, perfectly timed comedic physicality in a quartet of actors like Courtney McGowan, Nike Kadri, Austin Blunk and Jonathan Finnegan. What they pull off is sheer genius.

Not age-exempt

Bruce Cromer plays Egeus of Athens, Hermia’s father, as pedantic and unsympathetic, but he’s a warm, exuberant, affable, humorous Peter Quince, lead craftsman of “the Mechanicals.” Making a phenomenal debut as Nick Bottom, the only actor performing just one role is Ian Hersey, and leave him alone! He’s endearing in the scenes where Puck—unbeknownst to Bottom—has given him a donkey’s head, ears, hooves and braying “voice.” Though of a certain age, neither gentleman was exempt from all the running: left, right, front, back, even up and down the amphitheater seating area.

Triple duties

The same actors play the Athenians, the Mechanicals and the Fairies in respective scenes. This requires quixotic switching in acting styles, vocabulary and voice production, and also the fastest costume changes you will ever see anywhere. The actors’ sudden reappearance as other characters in successive scenes is well-nigh miraculous. The final scene—when the Mechanicals present the tragedy “Pyramus and Thisbe” at the nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta—is merely an excuse for the whole troupe to enjoy a raucous romp acting oh-so-badly.

Help from friends

Bonnie J. Monte designed and directed this comedy, and Scenic Consultant Steven Beckel, Lighting Designer Burke Wilmore, and Costume Associate Tiffany Lent deftly realized her vision. All these artists lent such credibility that you practically believe you can walk into a forest somewhere outside Athens and actually see a bunch of mischievous, scampering sprites and imps. If you can’t take a trip to Greece right now on the chance of sighting some, head to Madison, N.J. There, for sure, you’ll see these mischief-makers at their very best—on their worst behavior.

Hop to it!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by William Shakespeare, through July 30th, at Outdoor Stage of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Madison N.J., located on the campus of the nearby College of Saint Elizabeth.

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