When The NOLA Project staged Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in 2011, it took advantage of the natural environment and let the comedy's young lovers and bumbling thespians, aka the "rude mechanicals," romp through the park in delightfully youthful fashion. In its Midsummer production, The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane University has brought the play indoors at Dixon Hall, and director Clare Moncrief's work takes a somber tone as the young lovers are cast as British aristocrats who seem trapped in social class rigidity. It's a competent production, but it is stuffy at times and the play's romance and whimsy don't seem to reach full blossom.
In the opening scene, Egeus (Beverly Trask) complains bitterly to Theseus (Danny Bowen) that her daughter Hermia (Lyndsay Kimball) wishes to marry Lysander (Chris Silva), whom she loves, instead of Demetrius (Morgan Roberts), whom Egeus has chosen as her fiancee. The set is minimal, but tuxedoes and full-length gowns help set a formal tone, and Egeus' anger comes off not as a dispute with her daughter but a grand display of rage and entitlement. Theseus is engaged to Hippolyta (Francesca McKenzie) and looks like he's robbing the cradle. Perhaps it's that Trask and Bowen have so many years of experience onstage, but the two elders and their angry disapproval take over the scene and overshadow the young lovers and their plights. The foursome isn't as forceful or loud.
In the forest, Bowen's Oberon, the king of the fairies, looks even older than his young wife Titania (MacKenzie), and he seems like he wants to yell at the fairies to get off his lawn. Clint Johnson's Puck helps focus the lightheartedness of the fairy mischief. The minimal set includes a couple of dangling aerialists' ribbons on which the fairies swing, which is whimsical at first but distracting when aerialist routines interrupt the story.
The bumbling thespians are led by Liam Kraus, who is entertaining as the egotistical Nick Bottom/Pyramus and adds hilarious and vulgar braying to his strange liaison with Titania. Brendan Bowen is poised and funny as Tom Snout. Alex Ates transforms from a meek Francis Flute to an animated Thisbe and makes the most of crossdressing slapstick in the play-within-the-play.
The lovers are most demonstrative about their rivalries, particularly in Silva and Morgan's constant physical skirmishing. Ruby Lou Smith offers an impassioned moment as Helena when, suddenly pursued by two men who shunned her, she is at first bewildered and suspicious.
As the wedding celebration begins, the nobles gather for cocktails and to watch the thespians. It seems like the betrothed need a drink, but young love should be more intoxicating.