Pantagleize gives Shakespeare a Texas twist

A Midsummer Night in Texas

Through Aug. 26

Pantagleize Theatre, 1115 Rio Grande Ave., Fort Worth



Posted 10:43am on Monday, Aug. 20, 2012

Of Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream is most adaptable when it comes to casting and age. You wouldn't want to see a teenager (or even a 40-year-old man) play King Lear; but the fairies, lovers and acting troupe in Dream lend themselves to youth productions and creative casting.

Casting creatively is what Pantagleize Theatre Company has done, except looking at the other end of the age scale -- no one under the age of 55 auditioned, and director Violet O'Valle cast some of it by visiting retirement homes -- and that gambit results in a funny and sometimes moving adaptation, in unexpected ways.

A Midsummer Night in Texas, performed in an in-the-round configuration that PTC should use more often, is inspired by a 1958 production of Midsummer that originated at Brownwood's Howard Payne College (as it was called then) and toured Great Britain in 1959. The only member of that original cast who appears in this version, 54 years later, is Richard Don Simms as Snug, the member of the rude mechanicals who plays the lion when the troupe performs Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus (Tom Boone) and Hippolyta (Jan Boone) and their court. (Here, Theseus is Sheriff of Travis County.)

You might recognize Simms as the man who has, for years, played his banjo at DFW Airport when troupes arrive home from overseas. Here, he warms the audience up with some pickin', and the mechanicals' final performance is more hilarious than usual because it's played by a group of men who've probably had their AARP cards for a decade or two (Mike West as Nick Bottom might be a more recent member). When lines are fudged or forgotten, it's as if this group of players has been traveling and doing it this way for half-a-century, and their obliviousness to its badness is oddly sincere.

As for the fairies, Oberon (Duncan Alexander), Titania (Lana Robinson), Moth (Sonya Brooks, getting big laughs) and Mustard Seed (Amy Youngblood) are in Native American dress, and Puck (Decee Cornish) is a Buffalo Soldier; they seem to be more of an afterthought.

That leaves the lovers, which, of course, is the major difference between this and every other productions you've seen. They're supposed to the embodiment of young love, but here, Demetrius (Rick Cleveland), Lysander (Fred Johnston), Hermia (Libby Bogart, the show's standout) and Helena (Holly Kiehn) are of the age where they might very well have been widowed from a longtime spouse, and are trying out love for the first time since they were in their 20s.

When Hermia says "I yield my virginity" (the line slightly changed from the original, but with the same meaning), it's sly; and their final match-ups, after the fairy magic, is hopeful and sweeter. It has more meaning because this time, it comes with experience. Plus, they can do whiskey shots.

This Midsummer may not have actors at their most poetic when it comes to speaking the Bard's lines, but it will still be one of the more memorable productions you'll see.

Part of that is the Texas-ization -- the weapon in Theseus' line 'I wooed thee with my sword' becomes a Winchester; and Lone Star references include a mention of Stuckey's. But at its heart, even though this production has only one of the 1958 actors, it feels like an important reunion, a celebration of old friends and good times, as if Robin Goodfellow has truly restored amends.

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