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Midsummer Nights’ Spell

a Comedy/Drama
by J.K. Winters

COMPANY : Onion Man Productions [WEBSITE]
ID# 5173

SHOWING : November 02, 2017 - November 12, 2017



A play on words. Sometimes the journey in life must be spelled out.

Director James Beck
Julia "Meadowlark" Wingate Benton Lory Cox
Audrey Wingate Anna House
Angela Wingate Paige Steadman
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Casting a Spell and Coming Up Empty
by playgoer
Sunday, November 12, 2017
J.K. Winters’ "Midsummer Nights’ Spell" pays homage to Shakespeare’s similarly-titled comedy in little ways -- the rhymed couplets that start and end each act, a reference to "mustardseed" -- but the play itself is hardly Shakesperean in scope or quality. We are introduced to a mother (Anna House), her son (John Zincone), her daughter-in-law (Paige Steadman), her daughter (Lory Cox), and her son-in-law (Edward Davis) as they relax at the daughter’s house following the wedding of a grandson. Costumes suggest that they’ve changed following the wedding.

We are presented with five contrasting personalities. The mother is a word-perfect type, with wide-ranging knowledge and an unswerving Christian faith. Her daughter is a new age shaman, while the daughter’s husband is skeptical of all religion. Her son is a man of few words, and her daughter-in-law is an uneducated woman who becomes confused by the religious conversation that it is obvious will eventually ensue.

First, though, we have to watch the family members play the Scrabble-like game Upwords and discuss going to the touring "Bodies" exhibit, which shows flayed human bodies, preserved with resin, posed in artistic ways. It’s not terribly interesting, and feels like being trapped in a house where other people are playing games and relaying their impressions of a museum visit while you sit helplessly by, mute but polite. The main takeaway from the first act, aside from the general situation and the different personality traits, is that the daughter-in-law misuses words egregiously while the mother is a stickler for correct usage and spelling.

The set, designed by James Beck and Cathy Seith, with construction help from James Nelson, portrays a cozy living room in the first act. There are dream-catcher touches to the décor and it has a lived-in look. For the second act, the set is redone as a funeral parlor, complete with coffin, flowers, and institutional stackable chairs. Before the act starts, it’s unclear who might be dead. We see a portrait of the daughter on the upstage wall. Has she died? We see an Upwords board filled with the interlocked phrase "I will always misspell." That suggests the daughter-in-law. When the act starts, we learn that it is the mother who has died, from a stroke, and that the portrait of the daughter is the mother’s favorite of all the paintings she’s done (although it’s pretty clearly a photograph in this staging). The black costumes reinforce the idea that this is a funeral, but it becomes obvious that this is a family meeting and informal rehearsal before the actual funeral service.

The second act requires some technical magic as the dead mother appears onstage, invisible to the others, and causes poltergeist-like activity. The effects are nicely handled, but don’t really go anywhere. We have the daughter feeling the presence of spirits in the room and the son-in-law seeing a visual manifestation of the mother in the parking lot, but it’s all wrapped up with a speech from the daughter-in-law about the bonds of family. It’s a rather abrupt ending to a short play.

The biggest unresolved issue in the play, though, is why the mother, so punctilious when alive in the first act, starts misusing words in the second act, while the daughter-in-law’s speech pattern undergo the opposite transformation. Have mini-strokes in the interval between the two acts altered the mother’s faculties? Has there been some sort of transference between life and after-life? There’s no explicit explanation, and I found it baffling and consequently unsatisfying.

James Beck’s lighting design and his sound design (with assistant director Brandi Kilgore) are fine, but his direction leaves a lot to be desired. The cast doesn’t seem as if it has jelled, and frequent line bobbles are covered up adequately, but give a choppy rhythm to the flow. Blocking is constrained by the small size of the stage and the large amount of furniture, and also by a script that requires actors to sit and play a board game onstage.

"Midsummer Nights’ Spell" combines a weak script with a weak production. Actors are well-cast and have great stage presence individually, but the whole production seems imbued with flop sweat, as if the actors know this isn’t a strong script and they aren’t giving their most intensely satisfying performances. All the pieces seem to be there, but sometimes in a production the pieces don’t all come together. Compare it to a game of Upwords, where the playwright keeps attempting to force incorrect words onto the board, and the actors and director are forced to make it all seem right. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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