First Stage’s Young Company Presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

The Young Company is First Stage’s troupe of advanced high school age actors. And in the performances that I have experienced and again here with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they are playing beyond expectations for such a youthful cast.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and accessible and a great play to work with…because even audiences not familiar with Shakespeare in general know something of the plot and characters…and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy this play.

The Young Company is presenting the play at their Goodman Mainstage Hall in the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center on Walnut just a bit north of the Deer District.

The Company is presenting the play in the round with very minimal staging. A barely raised circular stage with a low platform along one arc to provide space for speeches, resting, sleeping, and fairies! And that minimal set and restrained space can be challenging for the action and large ensemble required for A Midsummer Night’s Dream but these young actors make the most of it! Director Molly Rhode, a First Stage alumna, deserves a lot of credit for orchestrating the comings and goings as the scenes change and of course the cast for their perfect execution as fairies make way for nobles and nobles make way for craftsmen, and town or palace make way for the forest. And the physical comedy inherent in the play are also clearly apparent and the audience reactions made clear that we were all having fun!

And costuming too isn’t rich or over the top…but you will be able to discern when a character is a fairy! Or a noble! Or a craftsman! And that is important since a number of the actors are playing multiple roles. So pay attention but you with just a little care, you’ll be able to follow the characters as they progress through the story and the dreams Shakespeare wrote into this comedy. And if you lose track for even a moment, the various bells, horns, drums, and other sound effects will clue you in as to which scene and which group of characters is about to fill the stage in front of you. Although I doubt anyone will mistake a fairy for a noble!

But the limited scenic space and simple costuming lets the language come through. And the cast has mastered the language and the story here is told via the language and the actor’s commitment to the language. Truly remarkable for such a young cast. I think we will see any number of these young actors on Milwaukee’s adult stages in a few years.

One of stand outs on Sunday, was Zachary Nowacek as Nick Bottom. Nowacek brings all the requisite humor and boastfulness required for the role…particularly as the roles for the play within the play are announced…and despite securing the lead role Pyramus, Nowacek exhibits a perfect swagger as he suggests that he can play all of the roles. And when we finally get to see the play presented for the duke’s nuptials, Nowacek presents the appropriate bit of slapstick as he brandishes his prop sword causing his onstage audience to duck on cue…and then plays the death scene to the hilt (pun intended)…to all of our amusement…including the good duke!

And then we have Angel Rivera as Helena and Alice Rivera as Hermia. Two BFFs whose affections toward one another turn as the misdirections and mishaps in the court and the forest cause their suitors to inexplicably change their affections. Both of these young actors start from the love struck young women and move to some very adult confrontations as the actual Midsummer Night’s Dreams affected their love interests. Both roles were played with the correct intensity and emotion and really brought the stories home. And of course their eventual shift to happily wed noblewomen was played with the appropriate calm and regal bearing!

And you can’t leave a discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream without discussing Robin Goodfellow! And on Sunday afternoon, Robin was played by Mara Holzen, who was subbing for Josie Van Slyke. And Holzen gave us the proper feeling of spunk, frivolity, and mischief that you would expect from a puck. A proper very Puck indeed!!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is suggested for families and young people, ages 11+. And I will suggest that this a perfect production and a perfect venue to introduce young people to the language and poetry of Shakespeare! All seating is close to the stage and provides an intimate relationship with actors and the story.

It runs one more weekend, with performances on December 16th, 17th, and 18th. Tickets can be ordered here! There is ample free parking in their lot next to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and additional street parking.

Extra credit reading: The Playbill! and if you want to get a head start on the play or prepare those Shakespeare rookies: The Enrichment Guide

P.S. I will add photos later as they become available.

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