Despite the recent cold snap, it's still summer for the Stolen Shakespeare Guild in Fort Worth.
The theater company, which presents its productions at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, is currently offering the Bard's comedic romp in an enchanted forest, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is the first of two shows making up the troupe's fall Shakespeare festival. The Birth of Merlin, a play that some (but not many) believe that the Bard of Avon may have written, opens Friday.
Dream, a delightful, fairy-dust-sprinkled romantic comedy, is charmingly rendered in this production starring and directed by Guild founders Jason and Lauren Morgan. This is an ideal choice for these players (see the title of the company). And beyond that obvious link, this particular play has a scene that perhaps stands as an apt metaphor for what this hard-working bunch of thespians does on a regular basis.
But before getting to that, a few words about the performances. The Morgans are wonderful in their roles. Jason, as the pompous weaver and wannabe actor Bottom, and Lauren, who also designed the costumes, as Helena. She displays a well-honed acquaintance with the rhythms of the Bard's lines and always finds exactly the right level of confusion or feistiness required. When she and Shannon Rasmussen (Hermia) play off one another, their work is sharp and crisp, like watching a heated pingpong game.
Mikaela Krantz is appropriately spritely as Puck. Alejandro Sandoval II is a smooth Oberon. Nathan Autrey is exceptionally easy and natural as Lysander.
In terms of the direction, the Morgans keep things moving at a manic pace without ever seeming to rush anything. As in most of their Shakespearean productions, they do not treat their author like he is a museum piece. The Bard is living and breathing in this production. They deserve medals for doing the script full justice while bringing the show in at a tidy two hours, intermission included.
There is one scene in particular that defines this play -- and maybe even this company. One of the most broadly comic scenes in all of Shakespeare's works is the presentation of a truly awful play by a group of "rude mechanicals" (or ordinary working stiffs) at the wedding ceremonies. That scene is a joy in this production, as it is in most.
In a certain way, that scene echoes what the Stolen Shakespeare Guild is all about. Nearly all of the players in these shows are nonprofessionals who devote long hours to rehearsal and performance with no remuneration other than applause. They are much more talented than Shakespeare's mechanicals but, like them, they come to the theater after they have left a day job.
There are some flaws. Some of the players in the smaller roles are not too strong. The set, by Jason Morgan, is a bit rough. And the costumes do not all work (although the dress worn by Kierstin E. Curtis, as Titania, is a stunner).
The minor shortcomings really only add to the overall charm. They are part of what pumps blood into the Shakespeare whom this troupe always treats as a man, not a god. And that is as it should be.