Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director Aaron Posner makes the most of the Folger's Elizabethan Theater in bringing William Shakespeare's comic-romantic fantasy to life; audience members in aisle seats may get some up-close attention from Weaver as she makes her way through the house. She also opens the performance with a greeting in rhymed couplets that welcomes the audiencebut not their cell phones.
Posner is working with an enthusiastic cast of 14 who sing (original music by Andre Pluess), dance (choreography by Erika Chong Shuch), and throw themselves into the various complications of Shakespeare's three-level plot. Large floor cushions are a major component of Paige Hathaway's multi-leveled scenic design, allowing actors to flop and fall without hurting themselves.
Devon Painter's costumes are roughly contemporary: Theseus (Eric Hissom), the proud duke of Athens, wears a crisp military uniform; Hippolyta (Caroline Stefanie Clay), the queen of the Amazons he is about to marry, looks regal in her gown and African-inspired headdress; and the mismatched lovers wear street clothes. Hissom and Clay double as Oberon and Titania, who may be royalty among the fairies but are dressed in sparkly rags.
As envisioned by Posner, the "rude mechanicals" are students in a girls' school, led by teachers Peter Quince (Richard Ruiz, appropriately pompous) and redheaded "Nicky" Bottom (Twyford). While some of the students bring unique flavor to their roles in the play-within-a-playFlute (Dani Stoller) is rangy and doesn't want to play the female lead; Snug (Megan Graves), who plays the lion, is barely audible by designwhen Twyford is on, there's no reason to look anywhere else.
Traditionally, Bottom is a character whose love for acting far outstrips his (or her) skill. Posner and Twyford, a four-time recipient of the Helen Hayes Award, have found a very different interpretation, an actor who begins as a swaggering and overbearing presence in rehearsal but gives a genuinely sensitive performance before Theseus. Of course, some of that heightened awareness comes from the period after Puck transmutes her into an ass: through Painter's costume design, Twyford gains "hooves" that force her to walk on her toes with her heels in the air, she brays and talks through oversized front teeth, and she looks adorable with donkey ears.