3 ac­tors in 3 shows bring out the many sides of Puck

The Washington Post Sunday - - THEATER - BY RE­BECCA RITZEL Ritzel is a free­lance writer. style@wash­post.com

Robin Good­fel­low. Goblin. Sprite. The Merry Wanderer of the Night. Shake­speare has many nick­names for Puck, the mis­chievous imp who star-crosses lovers and then must set all things right in the clas­sic com­edy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This sum­mer sea­son, three area the­aters are pre­sent­ing “Midsummer.” But just as Puck has many monikers, there are many ways to por­tray him (or her) on­stage. Here’s what three ac­tors play­ing Puck had to say about their roles in this ever-pop­u­lar, sea­son­ally ap­pro­pri­ate play.

The Puck: Alex Mills, a 26-year-old na­tive of Fred­er­icks­burg, Va.

The pro­duc­tion: Crys­tal City’s Sy­netic Theater re­mounts its 2009 “silent Shake­speare” ver­sion of “Midsummer,” which re­ceived eight He­len Hayes Award nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing one for Mills. There’s no di­a­logue; the story is con­veyed through move­ment and mu­sic. Paata Tsikur­ishvili, artis­tic di­rec­tor at Sy­netic, di­rects. Chore­og­ra­phy is by Irina Tsikur­ishvili, who also plays Ti­ta­nia. Per­for­mances be­gin Wed­nes­day and run through Aug. 9.

Past ex­pe­ri­ence with the play: Mills landed the role of Lysander, a young man of Athens, as a teenager and points out that he did learn and say all his lines. “We didn’t do silent Shake­speare in high school,” Mills said. He has since played Puck dur­ing ev­ery re­mount of Sy­netic’s 2009 pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing a 2014 tour to Mexico.

Theater train­ing: None, other than high school theater and child­hood gym­nas­tics. “I didn’t go to col­lege, so I try to treat each show like a kind of master class,” Mills said.

Fa­vorite line: “In­ter­est­ing ques­tion, since I say none,” Mills said. But when pressed, he picked, “Up and down, up and down; I will lead them up and down; I am fear’d in field and town; Goblin, lead them up and down.”

De­scribe your di­rec­tor’s vi­sion for “Midsummer”: “Whim­si­cal and fun and light and never too se­ri­ous,” Mills said. “[ Tsikurisvili] wants to keep the sense of magic through­out, even dur­ing the me­chan­i­cal scenes, and with the lovers. . . . He wanted it to be seam­less, and what he wanted with Puck’s char­ac­ter was for him to be the through-line.”

De­scribe Puck’s per­son­al­ity as you por­tray him: “He is just Dennis the Men­ace, re­ally,” Mills said. “He is just a lit­tle boy hav­ing fun. I al­ways com­pare him to Ariel [ in ‘ The Tem­pest’], who is a du­ti­ful ser­vant, whereas Puck gets his or­ders and says ‘okay’ with a wink. He has

fun when­ever he can.”

What are your Puck’s dis­tinc­tive fea­tures? “I am painted en­tirely blue, so first of all, phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, and sec­ond, move­ment. I have my cer­tain skill sets of con­tor­tion. Puck is a shape-shifter, and I have an abil­ity to morph,” Mills said. It takes him about 30 min­utes to ap­ply the paint, which is a mix­ture of blue pow­der and white clown paint. “A plas­tic spoon, a Sty­ro­foam bowl and my hands are my tools, and the paint never re­ally comes off. I won’t to­tally be un­blue un­til the run is over.”

Why should au­di­ences come see your pro­duc­tion? “It’s a land­mark pro­duc­tion, one of the tight­est and most con­cise silent Shake­speares that we’ve done,” Mills said. “The sto­ry­telling is so clear. Peo­ple who some­times get bogged down in the text and won­der what’s hap­pen­ing — our ‘Midsummer’ is trans­lat­able for all au­di­ences, for adults, for kids and for peo­ple who don’t speak English.”

The Puck: Mar­ion Grey, 22, a na­tive of Roanoke, Va., work­ing her first pro­fes­sional job af­ter col­lege grad­u­a­tion.

The pro­duc­tion: The first play of the Na­tional Play­ers’ an­nual free out­door Shake­speare se­ries at Ol­ney Theatre Cen­ter, this “Midsummer” will tour to area schools in the com­ing year and is helmed by Ol­ney’s artis­tic di­rec­tor, Jason Loe­with. Per­for­mances be­gin Wed­nes­day and run through July 26. Bring your own pic­nic blan­ket.

Theater train­ing: BA in theater and dance from James Madi­son Univer­sity.

Fa­vorite line: “I am that merry wanderer of the night,” Grey said.

Past ex­pe­ri­ence with “Midsummer”: None. “I did do ‘ Romeo and Juliet’ in col­lege. I was a ser­vant. I think I had two lines,” Grey said.

De­scribe your di­rec­tor’s vi­sion for the pro­duc­tion: “We are fo­cus­ing a lot on women and faith­ful­ness,” Grey said. “For Puck, we are ask­ing, what does that mean for her to be a girl? Tra­di­tion­ally, it’s not a great play for women speak­ing out, be­cause the men have such a dom­i­nant voice. We are find­ing strength and qual­i­ties in all the women, both the fairies and the hu­mans.”

De­scribe Puck’s per­son­al­ity as you por­tray her: “When you see my Puck, I hope that you find her en­chant­ing,” Grey said. “A lot of peo­ple see Puck as be­ing a trick­ster and be­ing mis­chievous, and she is all of that, but she is very true to her­self. She serves Oberon and is faith­ful to him as a leader and a friend. She likes to have fun, and there may be ex­penses to be paid for that fun, but it

al­ways works out in the end.”

What are your Puck’s dis­tinc­tive fea­tures? “Our cos­tumes have a bit of an Ed­war­dian in­flu­ence,” Grey said. “My clothes are very loose and play­ful, and ready for what­ever I need to do, and I think that is very much Puck: She is al­ways up for any­thing.”

Why should au­di­ences come see your pro­duc­tion? “See all three of them,” Grey said. “Sy­netic is such a phys­i­cal theater; they will have a beau­ti­ful and orig­i­nal take, I’m sure. Shake­speare Theatre’s work will be beau­ti­fully deep and com­plex. And then you have Na­tional Play­ers, and we hold our own. We are 10 young ac­tors who are all at the be­gin­ning of our ca­reers. We have a fresh energy and a won­der­ful ea­ger­ness that we are bring­ing. ”

The Puck: Adam Green, a New York-based Shake­speare Theatre Com­pany af­fil­i­ated artist who is “com­fort­ably in [his] 30s.”

The pro­duc­tion: Shake­speare is re­mount­ing its 2012 stag­ing of “Midsummer,” as its an­nual Free for All per­for­mance. The orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion re­ceived five He­len Hayes Award nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing one for Green. Per­for­mances run Sept. 1-13 at Sid­ney Har­man Hall. Ethan McSweeny re­turns to di­rect.

Past ex­pe­ri­ence with the play: Green landed the part Peter Quince as an un­der­grad­u­ate at Har­vard Univer­sity but says, “Puck is the part I’ve al­ways wanted to play. That’s why I dropped ev­ery­thing to come back and do this again.” In other Shake­spearean pro­duc­tions, “I’ve played a lot of rogues and clowns,” he said.

Theater train­ing: MFA in act­ing from New York Univer­sity.

Fa­vorite line: “There is so much won­der­ful po­etry in this play,” Green said. “In Act 5, when they are watch­ing the play within a play, Th­e­seus says, ‘ The best in this kind are but shad­ows.’ I think about that line a lot, be­cause he’s talk­ing about plays, and the fleet­ing mem­ory you have when you go to the theater. It’s an ephemeral ex­pe­ri­ence.”

De­scribe your di­rec­tor’s vi­sion for “Midsummer”: “The play it­self is an ode to the won­der and the­atri­cal­ity of the stage, and a cel­e­bra­tion of art, us­ing the metaphor of the fairy world,” Green said. “Ethan has taken to that to very cool level. The woods them­selves are an aban­doned and di­lap­i­dated theater. What the fairies wear are pieces of cos­tumes that they find in old trunks. It’s like the cur­tain has been drawn back on a grand stage.”

De­scribe Puck’s per­son­al­ity as you por­tray him: “I have seen so many an­o­dyne, cheru­bic Pucks in the past, and I don’t think that’s what he is,” Green said. “I did a lot of re­search into the mythol­ogy of the time, and there’s a lot of darker stuff. I was in­ter­ested in the two sides of Robin Good­fel­low: There’s a light­hearted and mis­chievous side that likes the pranks, but there’s also a dan­ger­ous and sex­ual side.”

What are your Puck’s dis­tinc­tive fea­tures? “It’s a very phys­i­cal in­car­na­tion of Puck, in­flu­enced by an­i­mal move­ments and the im­age of a satyr,” Green said. “When I hang from the chan­de­liers, I’m think­ing, ‘What if Puck had a lit­tle mon­key in him?’ When I’m climb­ing the walls, I’m think­ing, ‘Puck as a leop­ard.’ It’s a very phys­i­cal part. I did a lot of get­ting in shape for this play, and I do a ton of stretch­ing be­fore the show.”

Why should au­di­ences come see your pro­duc­tion? Noth­ing has got­ten short shrift in this pro­duc­tion. Ethan has cre­ated a world in which the di­rec­tion, the de­sign el­e­ments and the lan­guage all com­ing to­gether in a happy mar­riage, but where ev­ery­one is re­ally clear about the text. You don’t have Shake­speare when you don’t have the text. The sets and cos­tumes are some of the most beau­ti­ful things that I’ve ever been a part of. And self­ishly speak­ing, I re­ally love my en­trance.”

JOHNNY SHRYOCK/SY­NETIC THEATE

AlexMills plays Puck in Sy­netic Theater’s pro­duc­tion of “AMid­sum­mer Night’s Dream,” which has no di­a­logue. The “silent Shake­speare” ver­sion of the com­edy, which Sy­netic first put on in 2009, re­lies on move­ment and mu­sic to con­vey the story.

HEATHER AN­DREWS

Mar­ion Grey is Puck in the Na­tional Play­ers’ take on “Midsummer.” “We are fo­cus­ing a lot on women and faith­ful­ness,” she says.

SCOTT SUCHMAN/SHAKE­SPEARE THEATRE COM­PANY

Adam Green’s Puck, for the Shake­speare Theatre Com­pany, is “very phys­i­cal.”

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