A Midsummer Night's Dream — Image courtesy Ten Thousand Things

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Ten Thousand Things
Directed by Michelle Hensley

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s more cynical comedies. Like many of its fellows, it ends with the joining or rejoining of multiple romantic couples — but in this case, three of the four couples have been brought together by, respectively, military force, cruel humiliation, and capricious enchantment. Ten Thousand Things, meanwhile, is one of the Twin Cities’ most consistently uncynical theater companies, presenting plays with zealous enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. So how does a company like this approach a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

In its current production, directed by Michelle Hensley, Ten Thousand Things allows the darker and nastier elements of Shakespeare’s text to emerge, but balanced by a playful attitude, engaging the audience in a critical examination of the play that is simultaneously serious and fun. This engagement is aided by the fact that the same eight actors play all 20 parts in the play, with light costume changes allowing them to shift from nobles to “rude mechanicals” to goblins (renamed from Shakespeare’s fairies) while often switching genders and power relationships with one another.

A Midsummer Night's Dream — Image courtesy Ten Thousand ThingsAmong the most engaging characters are the four young nobles — Hermia (Brittany Bradford), Lysander (Anna Sundberg), Helena (Mo Perry), and Demetrius (Kurt Kwan) — whose amorous affairs provide the closest thing the play has to an A plot. Their feelings of romantic obsession and painful rejection are often conveyed quite movingly, despite the fact that these ostensibly deep feelings are easily turned upside down by the application of a little magic. Meanwhile, Elise Langer and Sundberg feed off each other’s energy as Bottom and Quince, ringleaders of the mechanicals, and Karen Wiese-Thompson gives a world-weary, sarcastic take on Puck.

Throughout the play, the actors frequently break up Shakespeare’s lines with the addition of humorous asides to the audience. Often, in a traditional theater atmosphere, this sort of thing can come off as cheap pandering, but in the brightly lit, functional spaces where Ten Thousand Things performs, surrounded by the audience at close quarters, it can be much more successful at drawing viewers into the production and making the resulting laughter a collaborative experience. There are times in the play where it feels like the actors are going a bit over the top with multiple asides one after another, but for the most part, the interjections are well placed.

A lot goes on in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ten Thousand Things’s interpretive approach does not necessarily illuminate every single piece of the play. The interactions between Oberon (Sun Mee Chomet) and Titania (Gavin Lawrence), in particular, can feel like something we’re just getting through in order to move on to the next scene. (Whereas the same actors do an excellent job, as Hippolyta and Theseus, making deadpan comments on the mechanicals’ play within a play.) But overall, this production continues the company’s impressive record bringing Shakespeare to life for traditional and nontraditional audiences alike.

Photos by Paula Keller

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.