A lightweight but ridiculously tangled comedy, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream can blossom under numerous interpretations: re-setting, re-cutting, re-imagining. A new Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama production takes its cue literally as a dream, and gloriously unfolds in layers, from base reality to credible vision to a world of sparkling fantasy. But at the last, it is more evanescent than effervescent.
A master of language and dialect, director Don Wadsworth is here burdened with lumps of gimmicks and special effects that never manage to cohere into a solid piece of entertainment. And though trimmed to just under two hours, this brief but tedious Midsummer is still too long to run without an intermission.
Many of the separate parts do very well, especially the polished choreography of the characters, by turns graceful and comedic or both (thank you, Wadsworth and movement coach Catherine Moore). Milim Sung's lighting and media design, assisted by Erik R. Lawson's sound, do engender a sense of magic in the theater.
In the large, uneven student cast, the four young lovers shine, particularly Mimi Gianopulous as the spurned Hermia castigating erstwhile friend Helena (Sara Trapnell, deftly turning from spaniel-like to suspicious) for her height. Ryan Melia keeps his charm as Lysander changes his affections, and Corey Scott handsomely transforms from villain to hero.
Alas, once the lovers are reconciled, the Dream stalls and sputters into a Six Stooges skit.
Anne Mundell's scene design is lovely but misses being glorious. With the exception of a perfectly cut gown for Titania (a purr-fectly beautiful Gabrielle McClinton), costume designer Steve Buechler is not at all kind to the ladies, inflicting upon them painful-looking heels and hideously unbecoming outfits. The fairies look striking, and move like a dream, but present a mixed bag in delivering lines. The perky Ben Ferguson, as Puck, was undercut by a cumbersome running gag of anachronistic transport devices.
I laughed, but not enough. In many years of theater-going I have survived countless Midsummers, some of which are still memorable dreams. This is far from the worst, but not close to the best.
A Midsummer Night's Dream continues through Dec. 4. Philip Chosky Theater, Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland. 412-268-2407 or www.cmu.edu/cfa/drama/