By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In this production's best scenes, Ferguson makes a perfect ass of himself. He's a brilliantly agile physical actor, a tall, lean man with a rubbery grin and a high-beam twinkle in his eyes. Midsummer gets its biggest laughs when Ferguson is in control and center stage.
The audience also falls in love with Cedric Neal as Puck. Star of last season's opener, The Who's Tommy, Neal, also a DTC company member, speaks the Shakespeare with fine clarity, but he also is one hot singer and dancer. At the matinee, when he sang the first few notes of the Peas' "I Got a Feeling," kids in the audience squealed and cheered. (Ah, Mr. Moriarty, we see the method in your madness.)
As in the play itself, the weakest scenes in this Midsummer are among the four mismatched lovers: Helena (Siegworth is the cast's second-best physical comic), Demetrius (SMU student Matt Tallman), Hermia (SMU student Rukhmani K. Desai, whose voice at both reviewed performances sounded fried at the edges) and Lysander (DTC company member Lee Trull). Moriarty keeps them constantly on the move, up, down, all around the space, but running these characters ragged doesn't make their interactions any more interesting.
Good thing their scenes are bookended by the great stuff with those flirty fairies and the Rude Mechanicals (along with Ferguson, they are played by Joe Nemmers, Matthew Gray, Marcus M. Mauldin and Josh Greenfield).
Moriarty, now in only his second year at DTC, sends many messages with his choice of this play to intro his company's new home. Count on him to deliver some classics; that's one. But don't expect him ever to be predictable in how he presents them. He doesn't want a passive audience, that's certain. In all three of the shows he's directed for DTC thus far (Tommy and the biblical In the Beginning) he has forced the audience to participate, sometimes against their will.
He's also saying something in Midsummer about the history of the institution he now leads. Moriarty may be shocking some of the old-timers with his Jo-Bro take on the Shake, but some have to appreciate his nod to the legacy of Paul Baker, the great director who founded Dallas Theater Center in 1959 and who died at age 98 just a few days before the "new" DTC opened its doors downtown. Among the actors boogying under the disco balls at the joyous conclusion of Moriarty's A Midsummer Night's Dream is Robyn Baker Flatt, Paul's daughter, playing Hermia's mother in this production. Baker's radically abstract Hamlet ESP was a landmark moment at DTC four decades ago. Characters drew on walls in that one too.
Now to the Wyly Theatre itself. Yeah, it's an eye-popper by the genius architects at REX/OMA. The outside is wrapped in "aluminum extrusions," which are as silvery as candy wrappers in the late afternoon sun. But what about the inside, where people go to be entertained?
Well, to get there requires more walking than the short car-to-door trek at the old Kalita Humphreys Theater. From the nearest DART stop on Pearl Street, it's 849 steps from the tracks to the Wyly entrance. That's almost a quarter-mile. It's closer from the underground parking garage beneath the Winspear Opera House. But that costs $10 and is accessible only from the eastbound service road of the now-closed Woodall Rodgers Freeway.
The Wyly lobby is below street level. You can risk breaking a high heel or twisting an ankle on the steep downhill incline (bound to be a treat when it's icy) or take the safer but slower paved switchback (meant for wheelchairs) or clomp down 25 wide-spaced steps to the front doors.
There is one ladies' room. It's in the lobby. There are 15 stalls. The theater seats 600. Male architects have never had to stand in line in the lobby for 15 minutes to take their turn to relieve themselves.
Sightlines in the balconies are terrible. Sitting back in my seat in the center of the first row of that top tier at the matinee, I could not see one square foot of the thrust stage. To see the actors, we balcony-dwellers had to lean forward over the balcony rail for the entire show. That is not fun.
Also, the pretty green seats are as hard as church pews, and the rows afford less leg room than airline coach class. This highly touted high-tech "theater machine" was made for the artists, not the audience.
To get to the seats, it's 35 steps up a dimly lit staircase to reach the first audience level. It's 35 more up an even darker set of stairs to the second balcony. Or there are elevators, which may or may not let you off at the right floor.
You could end up trapped, as I did, in the tiny dark vault between the closed elevator doors and the door onto the balcony. This happened at the end of intermission at the Midsummer matinee. I stepped alone off the elevator on the top balcony, the doors glided shut behind me and when I turned the handle on the door into the theater, it was locked—gulp. There was no button to recall the elevator. I knocked loudly. Nothing. I heard the second act music start. Rising panic. I pushed what appeared to be an emergency button and heard a robo-voice say, "Your call has been recorded." Still nothing. Long minutes went by. The elevator finally came back up. I rode down and climbed 70 steps in darkness back to the top balcony.
Oh, what fools these portals be.