Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was directed by Cait Bodenbender and marked our first production at the Rock Island Masonic Temple in April of 2006.

Aaron E. Sullivan
Theseus, Duke of Athens
Cobweb, a fairy

Beth Woolley
Hippolyta, former Queen of the Amazons
Peaseblossom, a fairy

Karl Bodenbender
Philostrate, Master of the Revels
Robin Goodfellow, a puck

Tracy Skaggs
Egeus, a lord of Athens
Francis Flute, a bellows mender

Maggie Woolley
Hermia, daughter to Egeus

Andrew Koski
Demetrius, a gentleman of Athens

Jeremy Mahr
Lysander, a gentleman of Athens

Linnea Ridolfi
Helena, a gentlewoman of Athens

Denise Yoder
Penny Quince, a carpenter
Mustardseed, a fairy

Michael Carron
Nick Bottom, a weaver

Angela Rathman
Robin Starveling, a tailor
Mote, a fairy

Jeff De Leon
Tom Snout, a tinker
Oberon, the Fairy King

Stephanie Burrough
Snug, a joiner
Titania, the Fairy Queen

Quad City Times review of A Midsummer’s Night Dream

Prenzie presents sexy, silly ‘Dream’

By Ruby Nancy | Thursday, April 06, 2006

Prenzie Players’ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opened the weekend of April Fools Day — a perfect time for beginning a play about general silliness and trickery of all kinds.

The production itself also approaches a form of perfection, too, delivering loads of broad, physical humor and slivers of sly wit with equal ease.

The script, which is basically a late-night romp through the woods, also has an easy sensuality about it — and the Prenzie version of that aspect of the show is also fluid and well-done.

Sometimes lively and sometimes languid, this “Dream” is an excellent blend of the ancient and the modern that will thoroughly entertain its audiences.

It seems I write something of this sort every time I see a Prenzie Shakespeare, but it remains a remarkable thing: these folks really get the material.

Forget the layers of velvet and tights, the rows of performers at attention in uncomfortable costumes, the delivery of speeches that border on (or, more often, wade directly into) pontification. You won’t find these “typical” Shakespearean conventions in a Prenzie show.

This is the Bard’s work — in all its clever, bawdy, lyrical glory — and it is done with such verve and clarity and attention to the finer points of the text that those who love the vibrant, intelligent, classic tales of humanity credited to him will love this presentation.

Those who have always hated Shakespeare (as they have seen it done before) will also love this production, so, if this description fits you, make sure you go to see how it should be done.

Director Cait Bodenbender (assisted, as the program says, by the cast and by J.C. Luxton) has put together a wonderful comedy that should run much longer than just three more performances, and the lucky among us are the ones who will have seen it before it is done.

Everything necessary for laughter and a sexy good time is in this play. There’s the prospect of a royal wedding, a feud between another set of royals, a couple of pairs of young lovers, a dispute with a parent, a rag-tag troupe of would-be players bent on entertaining the court, fairies and magic galore — and most of the action takes place under the cover of darkness in an enchanted wood. What could be more fun?

The storyline has three threads that eventually collide, creating laughs and confusion.

First, a young woman named Hermia (Maggie Woolley), ordered by her father to marry one guy even though she loves another, is distraught until she and her lover, Lysander (Jeremy Mahr), plot to elope, with plans to meet in the wood outside of Athens to make their getaway. The unwanted suitor, Demetrius (Andrew Koski), is pursued by Helena (Linnea Ridolfi), whose total adoration prompts a declaration of love that is so pitiful it is difficult to listen to.

These two also end up in the woods after she — hoping to gain his favor by telling him the secret — fills him in on what the other couple have planned, then follows Demetrius when he goes looking for Hermia.

Meanwhile, the Fairy Queen and King, Titania and Oberon (Stephanie Burrough and Jeff De Leon) are embroiled in another of their spats, which prompts him to play tricks on her with a spell that will make her fall in love with whoever she sees when she wakes from sleep. Robin Goodfellow (Karl Bodenbender), a puck, is dispatched to gather the necessary potion.

At the same time, a scraggly group — including a tailor, a tinker, a carpenter, a joiner, a bellows mender and a weaver — who aspire to the thespian life have also gathered in the same wood to rehearse a secret new play, which they hope to perform for the duke. (These “players” are the source of the show’s biggest laughs, but there are plenty more laugh-aloud moments created by the other characters as well.)

How these three scenarios overlap and intertwine is the stuff “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is made of, and the hilarity that ensues is great entertainment.

Throw in a prissy Master of the Revels and a bunch of nearly-naked fairies, and the possibilities for sometimes eyebrow-raising fun only multiply.

The show has so many superb performances it’s impossible to describe them all with full justice, but here’s some of the best work you’ll see in a comedy this year:

Karl Bodenbender, who plays both the puck and the Master of the Revels, is simply marvelous here. His Robin Goodfellow is “puckish” personified, clad (literally) in nothing more than a scrap of patterned cloth and a sharp pair of horns. A charming little sprite who delights in mischief and a sensuous good time, Bodenbender’s Goodfellow is totally capable of being all over the forest for the entire midsummer’s night — and he (the actor and the puck) is obviously having a blast the entire time.

Woolley and Ridolfi are both surprisingly serious as the young women who just want to marry their chosen guys, and the depth of emotional expression they each display gives their roles a gravity that welcome, if unexpected. Mahr is a wonderfully comical Lysander who will make you laugh aloud, and De Leon and Burrough both deliver major, sparks-flying intensity as the fairy royals.

Burrough is also a roaring riot as Snug, one of the hilarious group of “actors,” and De Leon is laugh-aloud funny as Tom Snout, a dense but well-meaning tinker who is cast as a wall in their play. The many antics of Denise Yoder, Michael Carron, Tracy Skaggs and Angela Rathman — who round out the troupe — are of the you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it variety, and they are all terrifically funny.

Providing a pleasant counterpoint to all the humor, most of the fairies are of the lush, sexy variety — played by many of the same actors who have outlandishly comical roles, they also serve as a reminder that sex and a sense of humor often coexist quite well.

(For those who need to know, the generous amount of skin exposed in this “Dream” wouldn’t rate as more than a PG-13, if that, and the show is certainly appropriate for most older teens and adults.)

This “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a fabulous show.

 

Quad City Times review of Measure for Measure

New group shows promise

Ruby Nancy | Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Prenzie starts with Shakespeare’s ‘Measure’

There once was a time when theater folks were mostly traveling bands of players who would put on a show wherever they were pulling out something already written, using props and costumes on hand, using actors for whatever roles cropped up, and creating a “stage” from whatever space was available.

Thank goodness some traditions never die.

The Prenzie Players, a brand-new theater group in the Quad-Cities dedicated to producing the works of William Shakespeare, launch their first show this weekend, and the topnotch “Measure for Measure” is I sincerely hope the first of many, many more to come.

Director J.C. Luxton, one of the Prenzie founders (whose playbill credits “the cast” as co-director), helms a fresh and wonderful production of the 400-year-old play. A comedy with a dark, serious edge to it, “Measure for Measure” provokes thought as well as laughter, and these players are true to the heart and soul of this material.

The three central characters Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, Angelo, the Duke’s deputy, and Isabella, a young woman whose brother is scheduled for execution carry the dramatic threads of the story. The Duke (masterfully played by a sharp, intense, gloriously handsome and superbly smooth Aaron E. Bennin-Sullivan) fakes a trip abroad so he can walk among the common people disguises as a friar, and appoints Angelo (a chilly, equally intense Michael Callahan) in his stead.

Isabella, a novice (the stunning, passionately eloquent Cait Woolley), leaves her convent to plead the case of her brother before Angelo, who has sentenced the brother, Claudio, to die. The struggle at the core of this story belongs to young Isabella, when Angelo offers her a deal: she can save her brother’s life by consenting to sex with the deputy. One of the greatest roles for a young woman in all of the Shakespearean canon, Isabella is caught between the brutality of a power-mad, judgmental religious fanatic and her brother’s weakness and Woolley’s fantastic work here is completely on par with the great writing that makes this part such a fabulous one. She’s beautiful in an otherworldly yet earthy way, and she is powerfully evocative and emotionally compelling on a level that few modern performers of classic material ever seem to attain, and she will literally blow you away with her work in this show.

Even with its serious subject matter, this play really is a comedy. And Woolley and Callahan play a pair of riotously funny supporting characters, too. He is Mistress Overdone, a long-past-her-prime lady of the evening, and Woolley is an easily entertained gentleman who keeps the “entertainer” company. Six other actors play a dozen more roles many of which are also comedic in nature. There are jokes about all the usual things sex and death, pregnancy and promiscuity, drunkenness and false piety the basics of comedy, if you will. And many more things will have you laughing, too.

The best of these company players who lend laughter, lewdness and lively energy to this show are Jill Sullivan-Bennin and Denise Yoder, who play multiple roles of both genders and all types. Yoder is saucy and hilarious as Pompey, the snappy male sidekick of Mistress Overdone, fussy and funny as an uptight nun, then plays a serious role as Angelo’s long-abandoned fiancee. And Sullivan-Bennin turns up again and again on wonderful and unexpected ways as an unwed mother-to-be, an elderly potbellied friar, a dimwitted constable, an executioner you have to see to believe, and more.

A slick, eclectic mix of hip and neo-conservative costumes dominated by black fabrics are set off by occasional touches of wine, charcoal, red, cream or white, and they lend a polish and sophistication to the show that really works. The tiny, urban performance space used for this show reinforces both the intimacy of the emotion and the hilarity it embodies and the informal immediacy of performers (who sometimes address the audience and sometimes join it) is as fresh for 2003 as it is true to the legacy of the Bard.

This “Measure” is a fantastic show scheduled to run for just two performances, and I predict it will leave jam-packed, cheek-to-jowl audiences panting for more. And that’s a crowd you can bet I’ll be right in the middle of.

 

Best of Theater 2006 from the Quad City Times

A year of women, a year of the dramatic

Thursday, December 28, 2006

By Ruby Nancy

…excerpted…

Director Cait Bodenbender put together a great “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which featured a slew of sexy (and mostly female) fairies. Aaron Sullivan and Karl Bodenbender were also standouts as sprites in this delightful show, and Sullivan also did very strong work in “Richard II.” Stephanie Burroughs had the title role in “Richard II,” and her fantastic work was at the heart of this show, which also featured great work by Maggie Wooley and Linnea Ridolfi (who were top-notch in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” too). Another “Richard II” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” standout was Jeremy Mahr, whose lead role in Richmond Hill’s “The Perfect Wedding” made narrowing the list to a Top 10 quite difficult.

 

River Cities Reader Review of Midsummer Night’s Dream

Written by Mike Schulz

Wednesday, 05 April 2006

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rock Island Masonic Temple Theatre audiences are often witness to romance and, with the right director and performers, occasionally even to true love on stage. Yet it’s rare to find passion and even rarer to witness carnality, two qualities that the Prenzie Players present in abundance in their juicy new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rock Island Masonic Temple.

To those familiar with the innovative Prenzie group, the news that Midsummer is imaginatively conceived and staged should come as no surprise. Given the caliber of acting talent Prenzie continues to recruit, the marvelous performances should shock no one. But while I was expecting to be impressed by Midsummer, I still wasn’t quite prepared for its depth of feeling; the Prenzie Players and the show’s inspired director, Cait Bodenbender, have managed – again – to make a work that’s nearly a half-millennium old feel revelatory. The show doesn’t just have emotional pull; it has erotic pull, and on the stage, that is unexpected indeed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is widely considered one of the Bard’s most lighthearted pieces, its pre-screwball comedy and romantic roundelays easily accessible to audiences. (Along with Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer is probably the Shakespearean title most frequently performed in high schools.) And Prenzie’s Midsummer has more than its share of comedic delights; the banter between the play’s traveling-thespian clowns, preparing to enact a hopelessly inept production of Pyramus & Thisbe, is especially endearing.

However, thanks to Bodenbender’s inventive staging and the powerfully focused work of the actors, what lingers in this production is the hunger, the naked desire, that propels Midsummer’s romantic entanglements. Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius are still puppets amidst Oberon’s cheeky romantic experiments. Yet the audience is so close to the action – figuratively and literally – that the characters’ passions have an almost tangible energy. With no traditional stage in the Masonic Temple’s playing area, the Prenzie Players perform both in front of and within the audience; characters chase one another while gliding between rows of folding chairs, and will occasionally confront one another – angrily, achingly – directly in front of you.

The results are often extraordinarily effective. Suddenly, the romantic suffering – often treated lightly in Midsummer productions – carries real weight, and your proximity to the actors gives the performers no chance to be phony. They enact the pain of love splendidly. Yet they also revel in love’s glory, and Midsummer is never more brazenly, exquisitely risky than in Bodenbender’s imagining of the fairies. Simultaneously ethereal and animalistic, they’re often less fairy than feral. The suggestiveness of their couplings, and Oberon’s and Robin Goodfellow’s glee in disrupting the natural state of human affairs, is presented with unapologetic candor. These figures delight in their wicked playfulness, and as the staging makes the audience de facto accomplices to their deeds, we do, too.

The downside to the show not being performed on a stage proper is that there are times when only a fraction of the audience is able to watch a dramatic moment unfold. Thankfully, the actors’ voices are so strong that this barely counts as a liability; their character interpretations, nearly actor for actor, are so thrillingly good that you almost don’t need to see the dramatis personae. Maggie Woolly is a fiercely strong Hermia – she has a beautiful voice for Shakespeare – and Linnea Ridolfi is a tender, shattered Helena; they’re the emotional center of this Midsummer. Jeremy Mahr, an intensely giving actor, makes a heartfelt Lysander, and when he and Andrew Koski’s Demetrius both fall victim to the same fairy spell, the men joyously play fools of the highest order.

Surrounding A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s romantic quartet are a number of sensationally gifted actors, most of whom assume two roles each, and the breadth of their talents proves downright intimidating. Jeff DeLeon and Stephanie Burrough are magnificently imperious (and sexy as hell) as Oberon and Titania, then perform delightful sketch-comedy caricatures as Snout and Snug; Karl Bodenbender is a vibrant, devious Robin Goodfellow; Denise Yoder earns huge laughs as the acting troupe’s flustered director; and Aaron E. Sullivan, whose talents are slightly underused as Theseus, exudes effortless authority. And the spectacular Tracy Skaggs, who would seem to have license to ham as Francis Flute, does something subversively hysterical with Flute’s performance in Thisbe drag – he plays it honestly. Everything about this production feels honest. It also feels deeply imagined, and unique, and alive – a Dream you don’t want to wake from.