Is there any joy as profound as watching a kid laughing on the edge of his seat during a Shakespeare production? If so, I haven’t found it. Interns with La Cité/Théâtre, under the direction of Olivier Lopez, have accomplished this joy with both hands tied behind their back. Their A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Été in French, is performed in a small park. They perform in daylight, with limited sound equipment, a utilitarian set of a table and a white curtain, and Ateliers Séraline’s consistently delightful costuming. With so many limitations there is simply no reason why this Midsummer should be jam packed with dramatic insights, comedic invention, and a fantastic capacity for Shakespeare’s epic form.
Most productions of Midsummer have balance issues. The audience usually watches a “mechanicals," a “fairies” or a, however rare, “lovers” Midsummer. It is my pleasure to say that here, all actors have their moment in the sun. Elsa Delmas gets a plethora of laughs as her spacey but motivated Helena. Inès Camesella plays Hermia with a tragedy that I’ve never seen in the character. It makes sense, as the stakes are quite high. Louis Olive’s Puck is cool and deadpan, a new feature for Puck that I very much enjoyed. Other highlights include Nicolas Tristschler’s hip-hop and R&B music, the quality of which I would have accepted at simply “painless,” is in fact fantastically enjoyable. Claire Le Plomb’s Tatiana sings with superb sensuality. As Oberon Charles Valter smartly never overloads himself with the stakes of magic-nobility and instead performs the couple’s spat on a ground level. Loona Piquery gives one of the more interesting character reads of the evening with her Peter Quince in love with Romain Guilbert’s dashing if ditsy Bottom. This added dimension of love is unexpected and quite effective. Eric Fourez perfectly sets Egeus up as dead set to kill the youthful mood. Louis Martin and Corentin Le Cras selflessly commit to a Demetrius and Lysander that frame the stakes of their female counterparts rather than stealing the scenes for themselves. Louison-Bayeux Martin’s Francis Flute is every bit the insecure adolescent we come to love and expect from this character. Lastly my favorite moment of the play is in the mechanical’s scene (no surprise there.) In this scene the nobles, now drunk after their nuptials, famously heckle the actors on stage. The quiet and shy Snug, performed so charmingly by Lisa-Marion McGlue, gives a timid speech about how she is “not actually a lion.” Once finished, she goes off stage where her fellow actors high five her. She did it! Later, she crosses the stage in character to the cheers of all, mechanical and noble alike. The joy on her face is unmistakable. If I could hug this scene, I would.
I should perhaps put on the proper stakes to the quality of the performance. This isn’t the majestic Midsummer of Julie Taymor at Theatre For A New Audience. This isn’t the iconic form-bending Midsummer of Peter Brook. With their Sisyphean limitations, actors kept their ambitions on delightful storytelling and a machine gun fire comedic pace. Some jokes miss but, if they do, there's something coming right around the corner. Ultimately, the joy found in the storytelling is all that matters, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have taken part in it. Lives might not be getting changed by this Midsummer but hey, who am I to say? Maybe that kid next to me might have begun a life long love for the bard.