A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by the Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 18 February 2010.

California University of Pennsylvania

M.G.Aune. “Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by the Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 18 February 2010." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 15.1-11 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-2/revppt.htm>




John Ahlin as Nick Bottom.  Photo: Ric Evans.


Adapted and Directed by Ted Pappas. Scenic Design by James Noone. Sound Design by Zach Moore. Costume Design by Gabriel Berry.  Lighting Design by Kirk Bookman. With John Ahlin (Nick Bottom), Bianca Amato (Hippolyta/Titania), Harris Doran (Philostrate/Puck), Alex Coleman (Egeus/Peter Quince), Lindsey Kyler (Hermia), J. T. Arbogast (Demetrius), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Lysander), Beth Wittig (Helena), Daniel Krell (Francis Flute/Mustardseed), Tony Bingham (Tom Snout/Cobweb), Jeremy Czarniak (Snug/Moth), James Fitzgerald (Robin Starveling/Peaseblossom), and Meggie Booth and Alex Lindsay Roth (Page/First Fairy).


  1. Celebrating its thirty-fifth season, the Pittsburgh Public Theater presented a well-timed slapstick production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the midst of the worst blizzard to hit Pittsburgh in decades.  When it comes to Shakespeare, comedies are the PPT’s clear preference.  Host for several years to the Reduced Shakespeare Company, in 2007 artistic director Ted Pappas and designer James Noone teamed for a well-received, production of Comedy of Errors that seemed like hybrid of Plautus, Mack Sennet, and Chuck Jones.  Where that production balanced physical comedy, rich costumes, a large cast, and a sophisticated set to emphasize the farcical humor, Pappas and Noone’s comparatively pared down Dream relied on a spectacular backdrop, strong acting and directing to draw out the gender conflict of the upper class Athenians and the low comedy of the Rude Mechanicals.

  2. The thrust stage of the O’Reilly Theater was largely bare throughout the play.  Its carpeted surface featured a series of low tiers falling away toward the audience.  The bare stage and absence of props and sets allowed the actors to move freely and widely, adding tempo to the production.  The backdrop began as a twenty-foot high wall painted to resemble marble with gilt details and two pairs of doors representing Theseus’ palace.  A turntable between the doors rotated the center part of the wall transforming it into Titania’s flowery bower.

  3. Once the Athenians entered the forest, the top half of the backdrop rose into the flies revealing trees and bushes and an enormous moon.  Leaves fell and littered the stage.  As the play progressed, the moon moved across the back of the stage from audience left to right and its color changed from cool blue to bright red in the presence of conflict, such as Titania and Oberon’s initial conflict and Lysander and Demetrius’ battle over Helena.  A third color became apparent as the couples reconciled.  When Oberon and Titania were “new in amity” the moon became, like love-in-idleness, “purple with love's wound,” combining the red and the blue.

  4. The costumes contributed to characterization and gender conflict.  Theseus wore a crown of golden laurel leaves, a red military jacket with gold braids, white trousers and black riding boots and appearing as a British officer.  Hippolyta appeared Grecian in a flowing, pale blue gown that reached the floor.  The rest of the Athenians confirmed a roughly nineteenth-century setting, the men wearing suits with waistcoats and ties.  The women wore empire-waist dresses with matching ribbons in their hair -- Hermia in pink and Helena in soft green.  Demetrius and Lysander wore tones that matched the woman each marry at the play’s end.  The Rude Mechanicals’ clothes were similar to the aristocrats, but frayed, worn, and sometimes mismatched to convey their lesser status.

  5. The fairies were costumed eclectically and added to the comedy.  Like Theseus, Oberon wore a crown of real laurel leaves rather than golden.  His loose silk trousers were black and his flowing cloak was black with red details.  Bare-chested, he looked like a deity who had just risen from bed.  Hippolyta’s crown was taller and made of silvery twigs.  She too looked comfortable in a glittery pale blue floor-length skirt and matching top, which left her midriff bare.  A black diaphanous robe added a slightly menacing element.  Puck was sinister, with a thick brown head of hair that stood on end and nearly covered his horns.  He was also bare-chested, and wore brown tights and boots and had a leather collar and armbands, making him look like a professional wrestler.  The minor fairies had vaguely clownish appearances.  The first fairy was costumed incongruously as Pierrot.  Mustardseed wore a loose yellow tunic that gathered at the wrists and knees and featured large brown spots.  The rest of the fairies coordinated using color variations to match their names.

  6. The production seems to have taken as its cue the opening exchange between Theseus and Hippolyta.  Whalen’s Theseus anxiously told Hippolyta of his desire for her and Amato’s Hippolyta replied curtly and distantly.  This Amazonian Queen was not pleased to have been woo’d by Theseus’ sword and refused to come within an arm’s length of him.  Theseus himself, despite his apparent prowess on the battlefield, did not seem sure how to engage his fiancée in peacetime.  Though she had no lines once Egeus and the young Athenians entered, Amato clearly communicated Hippolyta’s displeasure with the situation by pacing angrily back and forth upstage while Theseus attempted to solve the problem.  His decision to support Egeus did not satisfy and Hippolyta stormed off stage.  The tension continued in the forest, where the doubled Titania and Oberon unambiguously echoed the unstated tension between Theseus and Hippolyta.  Their visible anger with each other and the accompanying lighting effects made Puck and the other fairies search for cover.

  7. The production worked hard to use humor to alleviate this tension.  Lysander and Hermia, already in matching costumes, were chastely smitten with each other.  When they separated to prepare to elope, rather than kiss on the lips, they kissed their hands and then touched palms while looking coyly away.  Bottom and his fellow craftsmen flirted with overacting as they distracted the audience with their preparation and vanity at their acting ability.  These moments consistently drew laughter and applause from the audience.

  8. With many productions of Dream, Helena and Demetrius’ exchange in 2.1 provides a test of sensitivity to the play’s gender politics.  Here, Pappas softened the gender clash with a ridiculously smitten and maniacally driven Helena.  In striving to alleviate the potential discomfort of her degradation before Demetrius, Helena overplayed her “use me but as your spaniel” lines to the point of slapstick.  As she spoke these lines, she dropped to the floor, grabbed Demetrius’ hand, and rubbed it on her face.  Apparently oblivious to the humiliation, audience laughed loudly.  To even the score, later in the scene and under the influence of love-in-idleness, Lysander and Demetrius both groveled before Helena and nuzzled her hands.  Predictably, the moment also elicited strong laughter.  In a purely structural sense, this evened out the humiliation visited on Helena, but it could not obviate the play’s persistent patriarchal nature.

  9. While Titania and Hippolyta were distinctly strong-willed and resistant to their male counterparts, the text requires them eventually to submit.  Pappas’ production rushed these transitions.  Oberon’s speech describing Titania’s change of heart was truncated.  More jarring, the production cut the last half of 4.1 when Hippolyta and Theseus discover the lovers and come to some measure of concord.  These edits were presumably made for time and any disorientation was quickly forgotten when Pyramus and Thisbe began.  In retrospect, however, their omission sabotaged the production’s attempt to establish and then resolve a conflict between the genders.  For all its effort, the play still had the women acceding to the men with very little explanation as to why.

  10. The production’s conclusion was trademark PPT comedy.  If the Rude Mechanicals were overconfident in their initial appearance, they were pompous in performance.  Added to the text’s puns and double-entendres were a stream of sight gags and missteps.  Ahlin’s Bottom stole the show by committing suicide in at least ten different ways.  Beginning with a conventional sword-under-the-arm thrust, he paused for a beat, and still standing, mimed severing his limbs.  When this did not satisfy Bottom’s need for drama, he poured poison into his ear, strangled himself, and put an asp to his chest.  Still on his feet, he pulled out an imaginary rope and hanged himself, and then turned to a classical standby and pulled out his eyes and held them at arm’s length while he staggered across the stage.  Apparently interpreting the Athenians’ shock at his performance as awe, Bottom stepped forward, yanked a pillow out from under Hermia, and suffocating himself, finally slumping to the floor face down.  But even in death Bottom ruled the stage as he was too heavy for his colleagues to roll over and so as they futilely pushed and pulled at his corpse, the Athenians continued with their lines.

  11. Several audience members were laughing so hard tears streamed down their faces.  And so, though the production continued for another five minutes, for the audience it ended with Bottom’s demise.  As Pappas had done with earlier Shakespeare comedies, he deployed solid acting and directing, along with a generous measure of clever stage business to bring out the comedy.  In so doing, he let it overwhelm any potentially uncomfortable questions of misogyny or patriarchy.  Rather than confront the gender conflict directly, as the opening scene suggested, the production foregrounded the humor.  A decision that was, if disappointing, very entertaining based on the audience reaction.  The production also acknowledged the experienced Shakespeare fan, especially in Bottom’s death where, as the some in the audience noticed, his suicides were nearly all derived from other Shakespeare plays.



Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).