“Midsummer” Magic from John Cooper Students

Winter may be fast approaching, but during the John Cooper School’s recent run of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” there was a warm reception from the sell-out crowd. Student, Charles Dickinson, showed great skill on the piano as he musically welcomed the arriving guests. Then, professional actor, young Justin Doran, evidenced his dramatic skill when he took to the stage to enthusiastically introduce the play and describe his delight with his new post as John Cooper’s Director of Theater. That infectious enthusiasm would shortly be apparent on the faces of both his well-trained young cast and the appreciative audience.

The large cast was highlighted by standout lead performances from Eric Alba (Bottom), Lizzi Biggers (Puck), Kyle Cameron (Oberon), Trey Comstock (Lysander), Bill Dyer (Demetrius), Alice Ferron (Hermia), Shae French (Titania), and Kate Maher (Helena). The strong supporting cast featured Kelly Brown (Hippolyta) Megan Dineen (First Fairy), Caleigh Doran (Fairy), Ty Doran (Changeling), Joey Hohlfeld (Theseus), Anne Terrill (Quince), and Stephanie Zabeneh (Mustard Seed). There were also some hilarious double-role performances from Caitlan Booker, Jo Ganner, Laura Harmon, Smitha Johnson, Katie Mika, Kaylan Sikkel, and Andrew Stroud.

But the real star of the show was the joyous understanding of Shakespeare’s comic genius that was on display in these young students. Mr. Alba, Miss Maher, Mr. Comstock, and Mr. Stroud (Thisbe) showed especially natural comic flair, but the entire cast seemed to embrace and fully grasp the immortal Bard’s sense of fun and slapstick. This struck me as a remarkable accomplishment for a youthful group of performers, particularly considering the amazing amount of memorization required.

In addition to the very hard work of the cast, credit must certainly go to Mr. Doran and the many volunteers who supported the artful production. The magical forest set design alone was a many-flowered and carefully crafted gem. And the costume and make-up designs of Zainul Hasanali were exceptional, while the lighting efforts of Aaron Sternick and Porter Tikkanen added to the glow. In my role as critic it seems difficult to find anything to complain about, but a few suggestions come to mind. First, to protect the young voices of the students, vocal training in speaking from the diaphragm should be emphasized so that theatrical “screaming” does not damage the voice, or become strident to the audience ear. Caution was also occasionally indicated for students who spoke lines too quickly to be heard. And then, there is one personal pet peeve of my own— I am not a fan of programs that are difficult to read by virtue of being printed on black paper.

But none of these minor complaints diminish what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote: “Our true intent is all for your delight!” And so it was with this elegant and amusing John Cooper School production. Bravo!

(The Courier Online    12.10.03)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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