Theater

DTC's Midsummer is a Blackboard Jumble of Fun, But the Wyly Theatre is a Hard Sit

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The breakout star of this Midsummer Night's Dream is the man who plays its donkey, DTC company member Chamblee Ferguson, a longtime Dallas actor best known as Bob Cratchit in DTC's A Christmas Carol. After years of supporting roles, he finally gets a chance to shine as Bottom the Weaver, the main Rude Mechanical who tries to take the parts of Pyramus, Thisbe and the roaring lion in the silly play-within-the-play at the second-act wedding of mortal King Theseus (Bryan Pitts) and Hippolyta (Sally Nystuen Vahle). Bottom's fairy-dusted by Puck and turned into a braying beast. Titania, under the same spell ordered by Oberon, awakes and falls in love with him.

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.

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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.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner