Fairies and Athenians are enjoying the late summer weather in South Park Green, a cozy hillside park with an impressive vista of the Dayton skyline at dusk. These Shakespearean characters are diligently rehearsing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening Friday, September 18 at 8PM. The play is sponsored by Historic South Park. Last year they staged Much Ado About Nothing.
The delightful romantic comedy of mismatched lovers, enchanted forests and Puck, the famously mischievous sprite, will play out against the natural background of lush trees strung with twinkling lights at sunset, a perfect stage for the magic-comic misadventures of the king and queen of the fairies, human lovers and bumbling rustic folk.
First-time play producers Phyllis Tonne and Galen Wilson cannot believe their good fortune in director, cast and crew. And of the 22 players, 11 are from their own neighborhood of South Park. Director Daniel Wilson, a resident of Riverside, is an experienced director and founder of Wichita’s Shakespeare in the Park program. His wife Jennifer Wilson, a military professional working at Wright Patterson Airforce Base, is also an actress and costume designer of long experience. Two alums of Dayton’s renowned Muse Machine, Michael Wadam and Natalie Houliston bring talent and leadership to the troupe, which is a healthy mix of accomplished and neophyte actors.
The University of Dayton contributed some of its alumni to the cast, including Paul Browning, now working at the Airforce Base and Alexandra Robinson of The Kettering Foundation. Chris Rowley, ex-military currently at Woolpert, takes the stage for the first time since seventh grade.
Shakespeare requires men and in the need to cast more of them, the producers walked through the neighborhood in search of good-looking fellows of a certain age, just like talent scouts of old. They found Nick Moye, who’s turning out to be something of a natural. The South Park neighborhood offered up another crucial talent, the all-important stage manager, in the form of Elizabeth Blackwell, a Wright State theatre graduate. Alex Pitcairn joined the cast having recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati theatre program.
Rounding out the stage with young people are Kaitlyn Paeg, 15, of Trotwood and Lydia Diabate-Tonne, a fifth grader at Valley Forge in Huber Heights. The director is highly pleased with his actors. Even after many years of professional directing and the founding of other theater companies, Daniel Wilson gently mocked himself saying, “I have a better cast than I deserve.”
The troupe is in high spirits and rising to the play’s challenge, which bodes well for a lively engaging performance. “Dream” includes a lot of physicality, fighting, chases and dances as well as delicate moments and broad humor, even a song or two. It promises to be great family fare. Audiences are asked to bring a blanket or lawn chairs. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances are free but donations will be accepted to defray the play’s production costs.
“There is a surprisingly strong affinity for the work of William Shakespeare that has drawn us together again this year, and has us looking forward to the next,” says Tonne. Indeed, the Bard of Avon seems to have found a home in South Park.