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Paul Bunyan Playhouse: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' brings fantasy, comedy to stage

From left, Katherine Tieben, Zach Curtis, Ari Hoptman, Ryan Parker Knox and Sarah Nargang rehearse a scene Tuesday morning for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse's new play, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" which opens tonight and runs through July 2. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

With all that has been written over the centuries about Shakespeare and his works, one could assume nothing new can be said or done to update or refresh their presentation.

In the Paul Bunyan Playhouse production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opening tonight at the historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji, that assumption would be proven humorously inaccurate. Surprises, pratfalls and amusing jabs at local people, places and things abound in this performance adapted by Craig Johnson with additional material added by the company.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is believed to have been first performed between 1595 and 1596. Widely held to be one of the most beloved plays of all time, it is unlike many of Shakespeare's others as it does not include any historical figures. Shakespeare's theme for this comedic farce instead refers to an historical event; Midsummer Day, an English festival celebrated on June 24. It was believed that on Midsummer Night the fairies and witches held festivals deep in the woods and dreams of this Night conjured up wild images of fairies, witches and other similar storybook creatures and supernatural events.

While the main plot for this "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a complex farce involving two romantically confused couples living in Athens, they suffer further complications when they enter the forest where the King and Queen of the Fairies preside. Joined in the woods by an acting troupe trying to rehearse a dire but hilarious rendering of the play "Pyramus and Thisbe," together they all serve to illustrate that love triumphs in the end, and pleasure should be found in our ability to dream the impossible dream. In fact, one of Shakespeare's most famous lines about love is contained within Act 1, Scene 1. A favorite quote of many and perhaps even provided as an excuse from time to time, "The course of true love never did run smooth," certainly proves its honest and observant beginnings in this romp with a Paul Bunyan Playhouse slant.

The set for this performance is not overwhelming as the action on stage is the main focus and uses every available inch. The cast consists of 10 actors playing all of the 22 characters.

Assistant Director Randall Funk as a powerful Oberon has been on stage for all six seasons of Artistic Director Zach Curtis's tenure and Paul Bunyan Playhouse audiences will be happy to see returning favorite Ari Hoptman as Quince. Another regular, Katherine Tieben, performs in her 16th show with Curtis as Hermia and three newcomers to the Chief Theatre's stage include Sigrid Sutter as Titiania Hippolyta, Sarah Nargang as Helena with Erik Hoover, also serving as the company's movement coach, playing Demetrius. The mischievous Puck, as played by Jessie Ladig, is everywhere she should and should not be, leaving a trail of confusion and tears in her wake. She gives deeper meaning to another of Shakespeare's famous lines found in this play; "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind". Zach Curtis as Bottom is hilariously over the top with his physical comedy and self-deprecating humor. Ryan Parker Knox, fresh from "Forever Plaid," gives Lysander his own unique comedic twist. And Paul Bunyan Playhouse regular Jaimee Lusby makes her appearance as Philostrate. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is underwritten by Paul Bunyan Communications.

The show will open at 8 p.m. tonight, June 22. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 751-7270 or going online at Tickets for the 8 p.m. evening performances are $22 for adults, $15 for students and $20 for groups of 10 or more. The Sunday June 26 matinee tickets are $15. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs through July 2 with the comedy "Lend Me a Tenor" onstage July 6-16, followed by Kevin Kling's "21A" July 20-30 and the musical finale for the 61st summer season, "The Full Monty" playing Aug. 3-13.

This activity is funded in whole or in part by a Region 2 Arts Council grant through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund passed by Minnesota voters on November 4, 2008.