Fantasy and Freud Meet in CST’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Shakespeare explored the dream realm as it pranks the real world in his perennial favorite, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Chicago Shakespeare Director Gary Griffin updates the story’s era to the 1920s and lumps in Sigmund Freud’s dream analysis for good measure.

For those who never read it high school, here’s the plot: In the real world, workmen create a play they hope will entertain Duke Theseus (Timothy Edward Kane) on his wedding day to conquered Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Tracey Michelle Arnold). Theseus is forced to intervene when Hermia (Christina Nieves) refuses to marry her father’s choice Demetrius (Matt Schwader), opting instead for her true love Lysander (Andy Truschinski). In the dream world, the marital spats of fairy queen Titania (Arnold) and fairy king Oberon (Kane) lead to some practical jokes at the hands of prankster Puck (understudy Maggie Kettering).

Confused? Don’t be. The ensemble’s mastery of The Master’s poetics makes the story easy to follow and the interpretation leans heavy on the humor. Griffin’s introduction of numerous musical numbers is a welcome change-up. Ron Orbach as Nick Bottom is an ego-maniacal giggle; Kane and Arnold make good use of the show’s traditional double casting, displaying a wide emotional range. The uproarious slapstick of the young lover plus spurned Helena (Laura Huizenga) is well-orchestrated fun. The Puck as Freud analogy proves a bit of a stretch but Kettering is all spunk and devious energy.

The company’s usual high production standards are well-displayed; Philip Rosenberg and Mike Tutaj’s lighting and projection designs give Daniel’s Ostling’s open, 1920s-influenced set the necessary otherworldly tone. Mara Blumenfeld’s dreamy, lighthearted costumes are indispensable in keeping track of realities. Griffin’s pacing never lets the language feel like a burden; the piece is theatrical history that still knows how to show an audience a good time.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs Through April 8 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand. For tickets, call the box office at 312-595-5600 or visit the theater’s website at chicagoshakes.com/dream.