Go see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Shakespeare Free for All in DC

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Tuesday morning, I found out, to my joy, that Biggie and I scored lottery tickets to Shakespeare Free for All, an annual tradition of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. This year is actually the 25th anniversary of Free for All, and the play is a revival of 2012’s season production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as directed by Ethan McSweeny. The last time I saw a Free for All was 20 years ago with Kelly McGillis as Viola in Twelfth Night at Rock Creek Park. Nowadays it’s at the Company’s regular stage at Sidney Harman Hall.

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It was Biggie’s first real introduction to Shakespeare, and Midsummer Night’s Dream is perfect for that — it’s funny, lively, and fantastical. It’s also confusing, so the first thing I did after I got the email was sit Biggie down with this Youtube video:

I drew out a diagram of the different characters and paused frequently to make sure he understood how the different relationships and attractions shifted. Then I had him watch this charming video to review:

He was into it! I had to make last-minute arrangements and reorganize the day to give us a father-son evening to nab the tickets and catch the show. There’s two basic ways to get tickets: apply for a lottery drawing the day before a show or to wait in line for available tickets on the evening of a show. We got the lottery tickets but didn’t really know what to expect, so we showed up early to collect our tickets at 5:30. There was already a settled line waiting for that-day tickets, but I checked back later and at around 6:30 the line had disappeared, and there were still tickets available. Be warned, though: there was a palpable anxiety in the air up until the doors opened regarding getting tickets and seats, which underscores the fact that these tickets are often very much in demand.

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The theater is a good one, though, with terrific visibility of the stage from almost any seat.

Biggie and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. The beginning seemed a little iffy to me; I generally don’t like the trend of incoherent, inconsistent postmodern updates of Shakespearean plays, and I was a little afraid from the first scene that this production might be a bit of a hot mess.

The rhythm gradually and assuredly accelerates, though, and by the time everyone is catfighting in the woods, there’s a number of really inspired touches. (Won’t spoil it for you — let’s just say Puck gets to play a real instigator). The performance was very athletic but also loose and fun. And the Mechanicals Play is just one of the best and funniest I’ve seen, ever.

The production’s a little risqué; the fairies in particular look like a Vanity Fair photoshoot of Cabaret-cum-Louis XIV, but I think it’s in keeping with Shakespeare’s innate ribaldry. Hey, if you can’t handle a little sex and violence, the Bard is not for you. And the worst references tend to go over Biggie’s head.

Also, read Drew Lichtenberg’s short essay in the program; it’s got several good insights that made me appreciate this production even more.

Bonus: Ryan Sellers, who teaches dance at Burgundy Farm, was in the cast as a member of the ensemble!

All in all, really worth it; see if you can’t catch it before it’s gone. Performances continue until September 13

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