Midsummer it certainly is, but with an 8 p.m. curtain, the sun is still shining through the highest windows of the National Building Museum (NBM) during the opening scenes of Folger’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” presented here — as if in exile — while the famed Shakespeare library undergoes renovations.
As the outer world descends into darkness, adding to the play’s mossy night ambiance, the charms of this production, directed by Victor Malana Maog, grow after a rather shaky start. This is Shakespeare with a lot of business and a lot of sparkle and feathers — not all of it productive. But once the play builds some momentum, the extraneous songs and multicolor costumes matter a lot less than the fact that actors Lilli Hokama and Renea S. Brown make sure the audience is having fun, even when their respective characters Hermia and Helena are very much not.
But above all: the space shines. “Seeing a Folger play at the National Building Museum” is such a D.C. phrase, I think it technically has to register as a foreign lobbyist. Production designer Tony Cisek and lighting designer Yael Lubetzky take full advantage of the NBM’s grand hall, continuing its streak as a fun respite during the hotter months. The gilt and hollow columns have never felt more appropriate. The hall helps draw the audience in, and it gives good echo.
The play’s adaptation adds a few interesting ideas, like an Oberon-Titania flip that lands the fairy king in bed with the magically asinine Bottom, played by Jacob Ming-Trent. Dance numbers, pantomiming and a surplus of razzle-dazzle foregrounds his character, and Ming-Trent makes sure it’s time well spent.
The script leans far harder on “fairy toys” than “antique fables,” and the mood is “throw everything at the fake marble columns and see what sticks.” Black light, smoking props, harmonica, fight scenes that demand knee pads. If you’re not sold by the time the love potions start flying, you likely never will be, but all the noise does make the rare moments of emotional hush stand out more.
The closing play-within-a-play is a winner, completing the idea that farce and comedy are the most relatable, human things here. At a certain point, with this “Midsummer,” everything piles up so high, you just have to laugh.
It’s not a dream. But it’s a decent fairy toy.