Arts theater review

MIT’s Shakespeare Ensemble Delivers A Hilarious Performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream

A great play to watch on a mid-March night

10332 misummer night
Helena (Ellie Winkler '25, front) and Oberon (Tara Sarma '24, behind) in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Allison Taaffe

La Sala de Puerto Rico

March 15th, 16th, 21st, and 22nd at 8pm; March 17th at 2pm

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, and it isn’t hard to see why. What’s not to love about an ever-changing love square, a play within a play, and a man with the head of an ass? I arrived at La Sala to the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble’s interpretation of it, which was filled with excitement.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, four young Athenians run away from court into the forest. There, a fairy, Puck, uses magic to cause two of them to fall in love with the same woman. As they pursue each other through the forest, elsewhere, a group of Mechanicals gets together to rehearse a play. However, their rehearsals get disrupted when one of them is transformed to have the head of the ass. 

If I could summarize the entire show in one word, it would be energetic. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy with some pretty wacky moments, and all those moments really need energy to carry them. Luckily, the actors were up to the task, so I was often left laughing.

The ways that the actors moved around on stage added to this energy. Whether they were throwing themselves to the floor or chasing or being chased around the stage, the energy of the movements was well done. I particularly loved the first transition and how loud and chaotic it was. Something about “TRANSITION” being yelled out and seeing all the characters scramble to prepare for the next scene was very entertaining.

The scenes in the forest were interesting to watch. The usage of space felt especially unique in these scenes. One prime example was when Puck, played by Ilani Axelrod-Freed G, made their first appearance through a hole cut out in the bottom of a platform on stage. I also appreciated the costumes; the bright colors and bold looks worked well with each other and with the setting, though it still felt like each character had a distinctive look that represented them. The costumes for the show also looked well put together and cleanly done. The contrast between the plain white clothes of the court and the whimsical clothes of the forest worked well and was a nice touch. 

The scenes that stood out most to me were those involving the Mechanicals, a group working together to stage Pyramus and Thisbe —a play they think is a comedy but is most certainly a tragedy. The unbridled excitement, silliness, and earnestness of the entire troupe as they rehearse and put on the play makes for many laughs, and their creative integration of MIT course numbers into the characters’ titles had me laughing. Andy Emmel ’25 did a fantastic job of portraying Nick Bottom, giving the character a loud and funny energy. His comedic timing and dedication to every joke and silly moment made the character compelling and kept the laughs coming. 

I also really enjoyed Margaret Zheng's ’23 performance as both Snug (the 21M-2) and Peaseblossom. Her animated expressions and gestures were vibrant and fun. She also made a fantastic lion during the final scene of Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the Mechanicals perform Pyramus and Thisbe. 

Ellie Winkler’s ’25 portrayal of Helena also stood out to me. She played the character with confidence, which definitely left a good impression. The character was dynamic and bold, which she conveyed well with her voice and body language, and her brazen pursuit of Demetrius’ love was hilarious. 

I also enjoyed the moment after Oberon lifts the magic flower’s effects on Titania that had caused her to fall in love with Bottom, who has been cursed to have the head of an ass. In the productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania always seems quite happy to make up with Oberon and doesn’t question how she fell in love with Bottom. However, in this production, the delivery of Titania’s last line in the scene by Eve conveyed Titania as rightfully suspicious of her husband in a way that fits the character and was refreshing to see as an audience member.

My favorite technical element of this show was the set. Upon walking into La Sala, I was greeted with a very interesting all-white set with a platform on the left and a bed on the right. However, looking up, one could see an assortment of bags with vines hanging out. This was a beautiful visual touch that I liked, and given the imposing height of La Sala’s ceilings, it helped to make the space feel well-defined in all dimensions by providing an upper bound for the stage. The platform also was a touch I enjoyed. The blocking brought characters over and under it, and these interesting uses of height brought additional energy to an already lively show.

Finally, the lighting added some magic to the show. My favorite lighting moment was when Oberon, played by Tara Sarma ’24, receives the magic flower, and the purple lights of the cyc backdrop sweep across the stage from left to right until the whole backdrop is filled with purple. That was a magical moment that elicited some noises of awe from the audience. Despite the lights’ enchanting moments, there were also times when they distracted from the piece. The upstage areas were noticeably darker than the downstage, often leaving actors in shadow. Additionally, during a good handful of the scenes, there were sudden changes to light and intensity that sometimes distracted the actors and didn’t always seem to align with what was going on onstage.

I’m trying to figure out the setting and how things come together as a whole. At the beginning, I thought that perhaps the play was taking part in an abstract Shakespeare world. Still, the inclusion of MIT references, many of which left me laughing, also left me a bit confused about the show’s setting, but at the end of the day didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the show. 

This production had high-energy acting and great technical elements that contributed to a lively and fun atmosphere throughout the performance. If you’re looking for a good laugh on campus, I’d recommend watching this show!