Dallas — Girls just wanna have a fun fling with Shakespeare, and Lily & Joan Theatre Company is mounting just the right play for a cast of female, female-identifying and gender- nonconforming performers to exercise their bard muscles. A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is filled with opportunities to gender-bend roles, has a playful troupe of actors and a youthful, love-conquers-all spirit wherein gender fixations simply evaporate in marriage merriment.
Guests can "pay what they want" as they enter the House of DIRT, a repurposed old home on Seventh Street in the hip Bishop Arts District. Trader Joe's wine is $5 a glass, and a hand-lettered sign tells us the company splits all contributions with Genesis Women's Shelter. In their first production, the new company fulfills their mission statement by contributing to local women's organizations and by producing theater "rooted in femininity" and "dedicated to innovative, inclusive and intentional storytelling." Shakespeare works!
Guests move through the house to the fenced backyard wedding venue, where about 60 chairs, benches and stools are arranged in rows on convincing Astroturf facing a small stage with a double house frame behind it and cotton curtains, which, when pulled back, lead to an alley-facing gate. Big potted plants near the stage, and strings of white lights create a festive atmosphere in this intimate space. Director Emily Faith utilizes every inch of the venue, including the main aisle, the back windows of the house and several front row chairs, to stage her energetic and sweetly comic production, which runs not quite two hours and is played without intermission.
The bard's most popular comedy, set in Athens, is about romantic love and royal marriage and wannabe actors and an entire cosmos of fairies eager to play tricks on mere mortals who wander into their forest on a magical summer night. There's also many riffs of fantastic, comic confusion surrounding passionate love feelings as they settle into marriage formalities, all swollen to poetic explosion by Shakespeare's gorgeous language.
It all starts with a buzzing in the aisle, as Theseus and Hippolyta plan their wedding, only four days hence. Right away we meet a foursome of mismatched lovers. Feisty, svelte Helena is in love with tall, dark and relentless Demetrius who wants her to bug off because he's determined to wed blonde, buxom Hermia, who really loves poetic Lysander, a sweep wisp of a fellow in glasses who holds her close and tells her “the course of true love never did run smooth." That's for sure, especially when Hermia's father can't abide her true love.
While the lovers squirm and plot and get their pants and panties in a wad, a troupe of inept actors led by a blustery, ukulele-stricken Nick Bottom, are trying to get it together to produce the play within a play for the upcoming wedding celebration. On opening night Tuesday, the neighbor's dog on the other side of the fence commenced barking in counterpoint as Lysander and Demetrius argued about who gets Hermia.
Unscripted Fido cranked it up to a woofing growl when Bottom began pleading to play the lion, as well as everybody else in the show. Distraction-proof Bottom, and everyone in this production, delivered their lines with precision and wit, come police sirens, planes or yapping canines.
Meanwhile deep in the forest, the sexy folks of fairydom, looking hot in costume designer Erika Larsen's black leotards with flashing sequins, practice their moves and stomp to the beat, eager to get in on the action. The clever, fumbling sprite Puck, outfitted in black plaid, is all over the space trying to help the beauteous, sensuous fairy queen Titania keep her adopted foundling boy from her zealous consort Oberon. Ever benevolent, this eloquent Titania has our total sympathy when accidentally bewitched by a magic potion into loving the first creature she lays eyes on when she wakens and the dog barks furiously, on cue. Bottoms up really happens here!
No printed program is handed out at the performance, and the 14-member cast is listed on the Lily & Joan website as a company, rather than performing particular roles. Featured actors, most of them playing two roles, are Olivia Grace Murphy, Mia Quatrino, Alle Malia Mims, Olivia Cinquepalmi, Emily Grove, Morgan Haney, Caitlin Whitley Duree, Carissa Jade Olsen, Nancy James Lamb, Bwalya Chisanga, Madi Elizabeth, Sky Williams, Edna Gill and Robin Claytons.
Laughter and applause followed each resolved lover's mishap, the multiple weddings, and the silly-fun play performed at the marriage feast at end of the show. The scene felt a lot like a family wedding, and on opening night I expect a lot of the audience was made up friends, family and theatergoers enthusiastic about this new company. In all such family unions, we trust that, despite minor mishaps, all's well that ends in a glass of wine and a heartfelt kiss.
Bring a jacket. A North Texas evening that starts out feeling like shirt sleeves and shorts can drop 15 degrees in two hours and a warm heart is not quite enough to do the job in this outdoor setting.