Credit: Julie Stanton

Two sure things in Chicago: (1) Outdoor summertime stagings of
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and (2) strenuously
amped-up stagings of Shakespeare’s anything by Barbara Gaines. Chicago
Shakespeare Theater has brought the two inevitabilities together for a
production touring to 18 city parks. And with Gaines directing her own
adaptation, there’s no limit to the audience-goosing liberties on view.

A quick refresher: AMND is the romantic comedy with three plots,
the first involving four young Athenians whose parents are on the verge of
screwing up their lives by marrying them to one another in the wrong
combinations. This quartet hie themselves off to the woods, where they get
enmeshed in plot two, concerning the faerie king and queen, who are feuding
over possession of a changeling boy.

Meanwhile, a bunch of bumpkins are rehearsing a play to help celebrate the
wedding of the queen of the Amazons to the duke of Athens. The head
bumpkin, Bottom, stumbles into the woods and gets enmeshed too.

Gaines’s telling features hip-hop faeries, blaring pop-music interludes
(Andrew Lloyd Webber to Marvin Gaye), Bottom in a Darth Vader outfit, the
cutest lion, and endless Chicagoiana (starting with the city seal, running
through the Cubs, and including lots of utterly gratuitous references to
different spots around town).

Gaines’s anachronistic filigrees are often more annoying than illuminating,
suggesting a director way too determined to demonstrate what we can easily
learn on our own: that what happens in a Shakespeare play might mean
something even after 400 years. Here, she drops all inhibition, and the
result is more a set of novelty riffs than a coherent telling. Still,
there’s no denying that she’s a accomplished ingratiator. What’s here is
fun, mostly. And then there’s the chance to see the moon rise as the
performance unfolds.   v