“In the middle of my journey through life,” Dante wrote in The Divine Comedy, “I found myself in a dark wood.” Midsummer in Midwinter, the latest original performance by Theatre Gigante, cleverly (if inevitably, in these days of aging boomers) translates the four mismatched lovers of Athens into a quartet of—aging boomers. In the aftermath of divorce and the throes of midlife crisis, they find themselves in a literal dark wood—not to escape their parents’ dictates, as the lovers in Shakespeare, but at the behest of their nearly-adult children, who happen to be madly in love with each other. Add the daughter’s “imaginary friend,” a saucy sprite by the name of Puck, with a pair of frisky elven sidekicks, plus a couple of onstage hipster musicians, and you’ve got a musical sex farce—with fairies. If you thrive at all on wit, whimsy and warm-hearted happy endings, it’s irresistible; sweet and cool as the taste of sherbet on a muggy day.
As smart a riff on Shakespeare as it is, the show wears its erudition lightly: “What fools these mortals be” casually translates into something like: “don’t people do crazy things?” Puck has to google her famous closing speech on a smartphone, and is constantly texting her cohorts. The show is packed with artistic grace notes: the dancers channel the erotic spirit at it’s sunniest; Edwin Olivera particularly seems weightless, springing around effortlessly, while his partner, Jessie Mae Scibek, is the embodiment of charm. The musicians capture fairyland as seen through the twitter generation, their songs slyly commenting on the action with millennial irony. Amanda Huff, blue-haired and bittersweet, has a smoky voice that massages the lyrics into sheer breath, in contrast with Daniel Mitchell’s crisp emo falsetto; they never completely harmonize until the very end, when the lovers are all reconciled. There’s also a recorded soundtrack by Frank Pahl, which doesn't just illustrate the comedy, mystery and joyfulness of the play; it manages to be interesting and fun to listen to in it’s own right.
The acting is cartoon-light, as befits this classy amuse-bouche, Deborah Clifton in particular displays outstanding comic savvy; Isabelle Kralj shines when her character’s bitterness dissolves under the love-juice’s spell to reveal a goofy infatuated kid, while Mark Anderson and John Kishline strut their male privilege without flaunting it. As the young lovers, Evan James Koepnick deftly shows his character’s inner life, while Megan Kaminsky plays her 21-year-old as emotionally much younger. Molly Corkins’ Puck is full of sass and confidence, and Bo Johnson is pitch-perfect and hilarious in Bottom’s part: a sad-sack vagrant poet who stumbles into the action.
It’s really three different performances on the theme of love: a play, a dance recital, and a concert, and their juxtaposition creates the stereoscopic illusion of depth: after all, the topic, like Bottom’s dream, has no bottom. When the lovers, in true Shakespearean fashion, make their blissful exit, we can really believe that all you need is love.
Midsummer in Midwinter
by Theatre Gigante
created by Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson
May 15- 17, 7:30 pm
UWM Kenilworth Studio 508
1925 E Kenilworth
or call 1.800.838.3006