A Modern 'Dream' Prances Sweetly

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
A Modern 'Dream' Prances Sweetly
Theatre Review: "A Midsummer's Night Dream"

Mark J. Lehman
Managing Editor

Originally Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006

As stage lighting pervades the Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood and Felix Mendelssohn's classical score bursts forth and drowns out the last remaining chit-chat of the audience, I tense up. Am I really at the ballet? Why am I here? What would mother think?

Social perceptions aside, I watch as people of all shapes and sizes, of both genders and varying states of undress prance across the stage, doing all different types of spins and leaps, some even standing with their full bodies' weight on pointed toes, and I can't help but get caught up in the frenetic energy of the Meh-Tropolis Dance Theatre's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

In the interest of full disclosure, before reviewing this performance, I will admit to three things: 1) I have never seen a ballet, 2) I have never seen any performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and 3) I have never read the play by "the Shakester" a.k.a. William Shakespeare. That said, let us continue with this highly professional and completely flawless analytical review.

The entire first act was a flurry of dancers and short interactions, introducing the audience to various characters and wordlessly setting up the action of what was to come.

We see the king proclaim the marriage of Demetrius (Joe Hedderich) and Hermia (Brenda Stevens) according to what Demetrius' mother wishes. Hermia, though, is actually in love with another man, Lysander (Nick Thompson), who also loves her back. Meanwhile, Demetrius is continually sought after by another woman, Helena (played by Erin Walsh), in whom he has absolutely no interest.

From there, the action unfolds as Puck (Kristi Kraemer), a mischievous fairy, gets hold of a love potion from her older and wiser cohort Oberon, the king of the fairies (Anthony Eisenhower). She then gives it mistakenly to Lysander, who in turn falls for Helena, which creates a lustful circle of Hermia chasing after Lysander, who is chasing after Helena, who is still chasing after Demetrius, who is still chasing after Hermia.

Confused yet?

Along the way, a few small subplots develop among the fairies and a group of actors, though only so much can be conveyed through dance. I was not able to figure out exactly what was happening other than that there was a child stolen back and forth and that a fairy turned one of the characters (Bottom, played by Atticus Batacan) into an ass.

The show itself has a few slow parts where a character breaks apart from the pack and performs a soliloquy, only instead of words, he or she dances and twirls and jumps. Aside from those few parts where the plot takes a timeout, the performance moves so quickly that one hardly realizes how much time has gone by.

Perhaps the most excellent aspect of the whole show was the dancers' emotive and expressive faces. My fear of going to the ballet was that I would be watching a group of dancers who-though talented-would not keep my interest for the whole two hours. They quickly proved me wrong, however, utilizing the small and intimate venue by imbuing humor and chemistry through perfectly over-the-top facial expressions and physical reactions.

They were truly able to tell the story with their movement, their bodies and their faces. It is an amazing discovery to see for the first time a group of people come together and create such a spectacle.

Erin Walsh played her role as the unrequited love-struck Helena with such amusing flirtatiousness coupled with heartbreaking sadness that she positively stole the show.

By the same token, Nick Thompson as Lysander scores big with a wonderfully playful and humorously mean spin on his character as he lusts after Helena and shrugs off the love that Hermia displays prominently for him, even going so far as to drag her across the stage while she is holding onto his leg.

When each of these actors are out onstage at the same time, it's hard to choose which to watch. And with artistic director Sarah Harkness infusing so much modern humor throughout, there is rarely a dull moment.

It would be fun to end this review with a line like "This isn't just another night at the ballet," but having no prior ballet-watching experience of my own, it just wouldn't be truthful. However, the Meh-Tropolis Dance Theatre Troupe has certainly made a convert out of me, and if you give it a chance, I'll bet it makes one out of you, too.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.399150]
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