Theater review: Nashville Shakes Conjures a Delightful ‘Dream’

Midsummer 1Happily where Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s present-day rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is concerned it is not past the wit of man to say what dream it was. The dream was, and is, delightful.

Director Denice Hicks and her merry band of colleagues have mixed the Bard’s Athens with today’s Athens of the South to create a lively, enchanting and funny take on the classic comedy. Shakespeare in the Park has had more hits than misses during its 25 years, and the 2013 edition is, to borrow from Hamlet, a very palpable hit.

Midsummer 9Hopefully you’ve read this play in school and/or seen it performed at some point so I won’t bother with my usual book-report summation. Suffice it to say that love, misunderstandings, magic and a happy ending have likely never been brought together as well as when William Shakespeare did it four centuries ago.

Midsummer 15Where to begin assessing this production? Well, the show starts with Composer/Music Director Ed Haggard warming up the audience with his joyful journey to, on and with the beat. What do I mean? Words can’t do Haggard and his Love Drums partners justice, but a term that’s been used to describe what they create and sustain – “neo-tribal dance” – comes close. Imagine mixing sounds from West Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and elsewhere (I’m pretty certain I even heard an Australian didgeridoo among the drums, cymbals, a gourd and other instruments played with great verve throughout the performance) to provide a spirited sound-stream that enraptures and energizes; that’s the solid foundation upon which the rhythm of this Midsummer is built.

Midsummer 14The other trappings of this not-at-all “tragical” mirth are provided by some of Nashville’s best artisans: Tony Speight’s choreography fits Haggard and friends’ musical score perfectly; June Kingsbury’s costumes combine recycled materials – including plastic bottle caps, coat hangers, newspaper bags, and paper cups – and just about every color combination imaginable to dazzle the eye (and cool donkey head, Morgan Matens, as well as great hair and makeup, Aria Durso); Anne L. Willingham’s lights pulse through many colored filters while sound engineer Patrick Lake deftly juggles the demands an outdoor space makes on his craft. Add Jonathan Hammel’s old-Nashville-meets-new set (complete with ivy-covered walls and the city’s modern skyline) and this Midsummer truly has the disorienting, hallucinatory qualities of a comedic, romantic, other-worldly dream.

Midsummer 13And what about the show’s strutting, fretting players? Well, they are definitely strutting, but none should be fretting as all deliver the goods. If I named favorites I’d essentially be typing up the entire cast list, including but not limited to Bonnie Keen’s Quince, Craige Hoover’s Bottom, Andrew Gumm’s Puck, Apolonia Davalos’ Titania, Nat McIntrye’s Oberon, Brad Brown’s Theseus, Nettie Kraft’s Hippolyta, Lauren Ballard’s Hermia, Raffeal Sears’ Lysander, Savannah Frazier’s Helena, Houston Mahoney’s Demetrius and Derek Whittaker’s Egeus; the remaining fairies and mechanicals are terrific too.

Midsummer 3So happily the revels are in hand and there is a play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour (or slightly more than two in this case). As summer starts its slow departure Nashville Shakes’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a refreshing and invigorating reminder of why our city has embraced this remarkable company for a quarter-century.

Midsummer 7Nashville Shakespeare Festival presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” through Sept. 15 at the Centennial Park Bandshell (2600 West End Ave.). Shows are at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays-Sundays (plus Labor Day Monday), with pre-show entertainment starting at 6:30 p.m. A special sign language-interpreted performance is set for Saturday, Aug. 24. While admission is free there is a $10 suggested donation for patrons. Audience members can bring their own picnics, but food and drink vendors are available at the site; blankets and lawn chairs are welcome although bleacher seating is available. For more information call (615) 255-2273 or visit

Midsummer 2Midsummer 11Midsummer 4Midsummer 8Midsummer 9Midsummer 6*Photos by Rick Malkin courtesy Rick Malkin Photography and Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (


  1. We are so blessed by Nashville Shakespeare – Robert RAVED about this production and he only raves from the heart! We’re making up a large party to come – and thank you, Evans, for your insight, as always.