A Midsummer Night's Dream at Family Arts Center Shows Flashes of Brilliance

The set-up:

William Shakespeare's most-popular play is re-set in The Roaring Twenties and is tackled by a teenage cast.

The execution:

There is ample plot, its essence being that the young lovers are in love with the wrong person, and the magical adults Oberon and Titania are having a marital spat. The costuming by Copper Paradiso is excellent, especially the flapper sheaths. Costumes for the winged fairies over whom Titania rules capture the hummingbird feeling of a waking dream. The set by Lisa Garza is simplicity itself, soaring columns with openings lit from within, and lush curtains, often sheer, of various rich colors. It is quite suitable to echo the richness of imagery and vocabulary that the Bard showers upon us.

But such words, we are told in Hamlet, should be spoken "trippingly on the tongue" and that is often not the case here, though there are laudable exceptions. Ryan Jacobs plays Bottom, an amateur actor eager, nay, avid, to play all the roles in Pyramus and Thisbe, the-play-within-the-play. Bottom is brilliantly drawn, and Ryan Jacobs captures his energy, overweening self-confidence and enthusiastic emoting with rich humor and considerable style; the performance is impressive indeed.

His identical twin brother, Austin Jacobs, plays both Oberon and Theseus, and is admirable as a Rudolph-Valentino-type Oberon, but lacks authority as Theseus, in part because he seems to be wearing a bathrobe and his mustache is so obviously fake - intended, I guess, as a joke, it moves the play dangerously close to "improv" territory. Both these actors provide the desired rhythms as well as the high-voltage energy that is a hallmark of Shakespeare.

Jonathan Lammey plays Demetrius and he too speaks the words as intended, and, aided by some nuanced reactions, creates an interesting character. Connor Heaton plays the other wooer, and his actions and body language are quite entertaining, but mastering the rhythms lies in his future.

The distaff side is handled by Anna Conover as Helena, and her exaggerated gestures are intended by the director to be amusing, though I found them distracting; Annabelle Cousins plays Hermia. These characters are not some of Shakespeare's better-drawn figures, as he takes away their dignity, but Conover and Cousins show pluck and energy.

Puck is played by Alyssa Armstrong as a Charlie Chaplin figure, and she provided sprightly charm.

The most amusing scene came near the end (the play has been shortened) when the tragic Pyramus and Thisbe is performed in all its humorous primitiveness for Theseus and his bride, and here even some of the minor actors shone - Olivia Clayton as "Wall" and Emily Prince as "Moon." And here Austin Jacobs found the authority for Theseus, with more effective staging and out of the bathrobe and into a suit, and was excellent in his subtle reactions to the primitive production.

Many of the male parts are played by girls, not especially desirable, but a function of the male/female ratio in acting classes, and parts of the production have the feel of an acting class graduation - there are 27 actors.

The strength of this production lies in physical humor, rather than in the rich language of Shakespeare, and director Ilich Guardiola is inventive in this area, enlivening the production with levity of movement and lightness of approach. Many of the flapper-age updates are witty. The result is colorful, lighthearted entertainment. It may be churlish to expect more than this from teenagers, but the Jacobs twins demonstrate that, indeed, the splendor that is Shakespeare can be mined at an early age.

The verdict:

This is not quite what one might expect from this famous comedy, but nonetheless an entertaining romp in the pastures of Shakespeare, with flashes of brilliance.

The show continues through November 6, presented by the Houston Family Arts Center (Teen Actors Guild), at the Garza Main Stage, 10760 Grant Road. For information or ticketing, go to www.houstonfac.com or call 281-685-6374.

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