More than four hundred years after William Shakespeare penned A Midsummer Night’s Dream, people are still being told whom they can and cannot love. Pride Month is the perfect time to see this timeless classic performed by a modern cast at Portland Center Stage, now through July 2.
Since my husband and I have seen Midsummer a number of times (my brother was once cast as Lysander), I invited my daughter to attend Portland Center Stage’s version with me instead. Despite the fact that she has spent summers binge-watching Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, she promptly declined. (Tweens.) Of course, when we returned home, gushing about how the casting choices prove — yet again — that love is love is love, she was filled with regret. She couldn’t believe she had missed Jennifer Lanier (she/her) as Theseus, Tyler Andrew Jones (he/him) as Helena, Nicole Marie Green (she/they) as Hermia, and Treasure Lunan (they/them) as Lysander. So I splurged on matinee tickets for the two of us, because exposing my kid to this show, told this way is worth every penny.
That said, you don’t have to splurge. Portland Center Stage offers the best ticket specials in town, including pay what you will performances (June 22 for this show), $25 rush and standby tickets, 50% off for students and guests under 30, $15 off for military, $5 Arts for All tickets for those who qualify, and even free tickets through Multnomah County Library.
Here’s another thing about this production that surprised and delighted me: Usually, the “play-within-a-play” is my least favorite part of Midsummer; this time, it was the highlight of the evening. Comedy is hard at baseline, and even harder when you’re speaking Elizabethan English. But the actors in this cast are so expressive they could have been speaking Greek and I would have understood them. The last time I laughed this hard at a live performance was a year ago at the improvisational show Freestyle Love Supreme. While Nick Bottom and his crew presented a play to Theseus and Hippolyta, my mascara was running and I couldn’t believe that the wall and the moon (brilliantly played — and yes a wall and a moon can be brilliantly played, apparently — by Treasure Lunan and Jesse Weil) were why I couldn’t catch my breath.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in this show. Was it actor Jesse Weil’s beautiful acoustic lullaby, as he sang Titania to sleep? (The audience interrupted the performance to enthusiastically applaud that one, by the way.) Or is it the hilarious blocking during the lover’s fight? Maybe it’s every single time Tyler Andrew Jones opens his mouth, whether as Helena or Peter Quince. The spot-on comedic timing of Andy Perkins and Treasure Lunan deserve a mention, as I’ve never seen a Nick Bottom or Lysander I loved more (apologies to my brother).
The effervescent costume design by Sarita Fellows makes it easy to distinguish the characters even at a distance (most of the cast members play more than one part). And thanks to stunning light and scenic design, by Carl Faber and Peter Ksander, respectively, the audience actually cheered when the forest was revealed. All that beauty is coupled with creative blocking, and the result is you could take a photo at any point of this show and it would be frame-able.
How old does your child need to be to enjoy this performance? I saw a number of tweens on opening night, and I plan to bring my 10-year-old. That said, there is some seriously bawdy humor, and Portland Center Stage recommends the show for ages 12 and up. Even if you happen to have an extremely precocious 5-year-old, you’ll have to leave them at home, as children under 6 are not permitted at any PCS production. For tweens and teens, I would recommend reading a plot summary or watching the 1999 film before attending.
This unexpected addition to our Pride celebrations makes me happier than I can say. If you think your teens would likely roll their eyes at an invitation to see a Shakespearean play, this just might be the show to change their minds. Get tickets here.