SSC’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ an absurd and delightful fantasy

This critic just discovered what the Bard and everyone at Seattle Shakespeare Company already knows: George Mount is a brilliant actor as well as a brilliant director. 

The evidence? Seattle Shakespeare Company’s (SSC) current production of Shakespeare’s 1595 comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Mount has reimagined the Bard’s comedy as a backstage musical/film from the 1930s-mid-1940s — paging Busby Berkeley and Florenz Ziegfeld —and it is delightful. 

Instead of the usual forest setting, SSC’s show unfolds inside a Broadway Revue house, the “Palace Woods, owned by Duke Theseus. The Bard’s characters that you know and love sing, tap dance, squabble, and wrestle. Trickery ensues, and love goes awry in this absurd and delightful fantasy. 

There are fairies, ingénues, divas, and workmen who put on a play within the play. There’s a terrific onstage band called The Huntsmen. And of course, there is Puck, whose fairy mischief is responsible for the romantic fantasy and chaos. 

Four young lovers — Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius — cross paths with squabbling fairy royalty, King Oberon and Queen Titania, and a six-pack of fools — Quince, Flute, Snug, Snout, Starvling, and Bottom. 

Like Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Hermia and Lysander are in love and want to marry. But her father Egeus (a deliciously overbearing Brandon Felker) wants her to marry Demetrius. He’s amiable to the idea, but Hermia is not. Besides, her BFF Helena is in love with Demetrius 

As Puck, John David Scott is a fast-talking, tap-dancing fairy rascal who can’t resist putting his own spin on fairy king’s commands. The dashing and elegant Terence Kelley is every inch a fairy king. He oozes panache — from his regal profile and perfect diction down to his couture-cut tuxedo and shiny black patent slippers. 

Not everyone rushes to do Oberon’s bidding. His beautifully gowned and coiffed Faerie Queen Titania, in particular. Oberon wants the foundling she has adopted, but she refuses to relinquish the little sprite.  So he bids Puck to sprinkle the essence of a magical flower on the sleeping Titania, so she will fall in love with the first thing she sees, While he’s at it, Oberon tells Puck to sprinkle floral magic on the young Athenian dude Helena loves. 

Good idea, but Puck mistakenly anoints Lysander, who as a result, now fancies Helena. Puck tries to fix things by casting a spell on Demetrius. Now both young men are in love with Helena, and Hermia has been abandoned. What a kerfuffle!

Vanessa Miller nails the essence of the Queen with her daring and determination, surrounded by her fairies-in-waiting, aka chorus girls A shout out to Maddie Brantz, Sarah Dennis, Devyn Grendell, Tziotis Shields” Thank you for bringing gold lame and sumptuous feather fans back into fashion. Your jump-short garbs are retro-ly glorious, Lysander and Demetrius (the debonair romantic beaus, Casey Raiha and Adam St, John) end up in mortal combat over their love for the same woman. And Hermia is totally undone by her sweetheart’s betrayal, as is Helena, who suspects a conspiracy. The four lovers roughhouse and somersault all over the apron stage, ending up in awkward and adorable positions.

As Hermia, Mallory Cooney King is curvaceous, pretty, and confident of her charms, while the delightful and funny Keiko Green, as lovesick Helena, throws herself at Demetrius, who doesn’t return her feelings. She chases him; he runs. She even shows her devotion doggie style by getting down on all fours and barking “arf-arf” like a dog. He runs even faster. 

Meanwhile, in Mount’s concept, the Bard’s blue-collar fools work in the theater as carpenters, costume stitchers, usherettes, plumbers, or stagehands. They differ from the Bard’s other fools, who are known for spouting wisdom. These bumbling “Midsummer” laborers — there’s no nice way to say it — are nincompoops (Shakespeare’s version of Trump’s base). When they decide to write a skit to celebrate the marriage of Hippolyta and Duke Theseus, the egotistical bumpkin plumber, Nick Bottom is cast as leading man in his pal Quince’s outrageously funny rendition of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” 

To make it more fun, Puck transforms the arrogant arse Bottom into a donkey. His pals flee, frightened of his transformation. But of course, he is the first creature the fairy queen sees, and of course, she is besotted. So is he, as a preening ass totally ignorant of his new look (although he has developed a fondness for carrots).  

The big wedding day arrives, and the mechanicals present their play. The moon, a nervous Starveling (the cuddly Steve Davis), arrives with a lantern and a stuffed doggie on a leash.  His has but one line--“Moonshine” which he delivers several times. 

Snout (a delightfully dour Bob Downing), forced to portray The Wall, wears a sandwich board of fake bricks, and it’s clear that he resents his role as a prop.  It doesn’t help that as The Wall, he must have a chink, symbolized by two of his fingers, through which Thisbe and Pyramus talk. 

As Thisbe, Flute the ticket taker (the enthusiastic Shanna Allman), whirls on and offstage dervish-style in a hooped gown that would have Scarlett O’Hara reaching for the mint julips.  Quince, (Brandon Felker, now the addled playwright/director), runs amuck with a megaphone, patterned after those used by silent film directors. Then, attired in a Roman toga covering his shorts, Bottom sashays onstage, his arms pointed upward with fey, over-the-top regality. 

Has there ever been such a Bottom as MJ Sieber? Possibly not. He’s the best piece of ass Seattle has seen in years. Alas and alackaday, there are no adequate words to describe his tour de force gestures and poses — he chews up the scenery. You will never be the same after you behold his performance.  His portrayal is met with yocks — that’s gales of laughter in Elizabethan cant.

As the Lion, Snug (an adorable Marco Voli) blurts out that his intent is not to frighten the ladies in the audience with his roaring--as if he could, with a wet mop for a wig. Then he lets loose a huge roar, which delights his fellow thespians.  

I can’t disclose what happens to Bottom, but be advised his blood is represented by a long, straggly red ribbon. No more can be told. Well, okay, one more thing; the handle from his silver cardboard dagger breaks off. 

There are so many wonderful theatrical touches in this show, and they come together to create the vintage atmosphere.  Craig Wollam’s backstage set, Doris Black’s couture gowns and dapper duds, Robin Macartney’s creative prop design, Dayton Allemann’s playful musical direction, and Crystal Dawn Munkers’ period choreography. 

The Bard’s iambic pentameter is delivered by a merry band of actors who made it sound perfectly conversational. They also sing, using Shakespeare’s verses for lyrics, set to original music composed by Nir Sadovik. And all those familiar Shakespearean one-liners float through the air like old friends. 

A little bird told us that multi-talented Mount patterned his performance as His Grace, Duke Theseus, after Frank Morgan, the wizard in “The Wizard of Oz.” As Dukes do, his Grace carries a shotgun and assumes an aristocratic but good-natured demeanor. His bride-to-be Hippolyta sports a bow and a quiver of arrows and comports herself in an untoward version of a grand dame, broadly played by Crystal Dawn Munkers.  

The play’s spectacular show-biz ending pays homage to Florenz Ziegfeld. As one audience member put it, “an evening of pure sugar.” Albeit, the kind that doesn’t make you plump. 

We all need a respite from POTUS and his band of billionaire boobs, bugaboos, do-badders, and baboons, and SSC delivers with imagination and comedic verve. This critic is still laughing. 

When Puck crows, “What fools these mortals be,” we can crow back,   “Seattle, get thee to the theater.”  

Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through May 21 at the Cornish Playhouse (former Intiman Theatre); tickets  range from $27-$50 for adults and $27-$35 for the military, seniors, and students; discounts available for groups of ten or more; Seattle Shakespeare Company box office (206) 733-8222 or go online at