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Sunday, December 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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A Midsummer Night's Dream works its magic
Some enchanted evening
Inspired, beautiful...and funny.
Inspired, beautiful...and funny.
Credit:Zane Williams

Something magical happened in the woods at American Players Theatre's opening-night performance of A Midsummer's Night Dream. It wasn't just that torrential rains paused, nor was it that the cloud of hovering mosquitoes didn't seem to be biting. It was that William Brown's deftly directed production was as inspired and beautiful as it was funny.

This version of Shakespeare's comedy is set in modern-day Athens. A ragtag group of laborers are rehearsing a play to be performed at a royal wedding, and two sets of young lovers quarrel over the objects of their affections. The lovers and the novice actors take to the woods, where the meddling fairy king and his queen squabble.

I was particularly smitten with one of the couples. Steve Haggard is a delight as Demetrius, especially as he priggishly wards off Helena's advances with his bug spray while armed with a headlamp and asthma inhaler. He has a unique way of making Shakespeare's words seem completely current. Carrie Coon creates a believable and complex Helena - sometimes vulnerable, shrill but always real.

Jonathan Smoots, as the egomaniacal buffoon Bottom, is hilarious rehearsing the play within the play as he attempts to take over every role, and he shines portraying the tragic Pyramus when their mess of a play is performed. His version of bad acting makes me appreciate what a good actor Smoots really is. Real-life husband-and-wife team Michael Huftile and Carey Cannon play Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania and astounded me with their swift costume changes. Cannon is a radiant queen; almost a pastel version of John Singer Sargent's Madame X. Huftile is imposing in his flowing cape adorned with leather and twigs.

The first half is such a treat, especially as the capers in the woods get more complicated, that I didn't want the intermission to interrupt the fun. The opening of the second half is more about putting things back together and not as engaging, but momentum returns as the troupe of rubes perform their play for the newlyweds. Appropriately the show closes with some rowdy Greek dancing, bottles of Ouzo and shouts of "Opa!"

Rachel Healy's fanciful costumes and Todd Rosenthal's striking set of concentric teal circles punctuated with glowing orbs of water add tremendously to the enchantment.

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