From the piers of the Hudson River in New York to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, REV Theatre Company has been putting a novel spin on Shakespearean plays (and other classic works) for more than a decade. Next week, the company goes to Cape May to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream on the outdoor stage of the Emlen Physick Estate.
The creation of co-artistic directors Rosemary Hay and Rudy Caporaso, REV is named for the litany of powerful words that begin with the letters R-E-V.
"We looked up all the 'rev' words in the dictionary, like revolution, revamp, reveal, revise, all of those," said Hay, who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and teaches theater courses at Temple University and the University of the Arts. Many of the show's 18 cast members have studied or currently study with her. "We thought, 'OK, this is what we'll be, because we want to rev things up.' "
By planting roots in Cape May - a process the company began last summer with Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors - REV is bringing theater back to the Physick estate for the first time since the 1980s, when the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (now Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities) sponsored a summer stock theater program.
Michael Zuckerman, director of the arts center, said the program, which produced plays and musicals such as The Mousetrap and Little Shop of Horrors from 1983 to 1989, was shelved due to financial instability. So far, REV's Cape May shows have proven more successful. Comedy of Errors drew about 40 to 50 people a night, he said.
Before the Cape May production of Midsummer, which opens Tuesday, REV took the Bard's comedy about young lovers, fairies, and magical mishaps to South Philly's Columbus Square Park from Thursday through Saturday.
"As I'm fond of saying, and I've said more than once, it ain't your grandma's Shakespeare," said Caporaso, who appears in the production as the trickster Puck. During the year, he does theater education outreach in Wildwood.
REV's Midsummer features neon wigs and glitter, a soundtrack of popular music from across the decades (the fairies sing the Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman" as a lullaby to their queen, Titania), and even kiddie pools, in which actors get dunked amid the play's madcap antics.
"The lovers get dunked, but it's the little one who gets picked on the most," said Felicia Anderton, 23, who plays Hermia - the character famously labeled "little but fierce" by her rival in love, Helena. Like Hermia, Anderton is petite. A 2015 UArts graduate, she has worked with REV several times, appearing with Caporaso in the company's Graveyard Cabaret during last year's Philadelphia Fringe festival. The spooky revue, performed in Laurel Hill Cemetery, has become an annual Fringe tradition.
The professions of the Mechanicals - the manual laborers who perform a play-within-a-play - have also been updated. The tailor Robin Starveling, for example, is now a waitress named Svetlana Starveling.
"It's a very active choice, especially for modern day, and on top of that, I get to be Russian," said Susanna Herrick, who plays Starveling. Herrick, also 23, is a rising senior at UArts and has studied with Hay in the classroom.
"From our point of view, it's been a total joy. [REV is] just so energetic, enthusiastic, creative," Zuckerman said. "If this coming production is anything like last year's, it's bound to be a hit with our audience."
The free Columbus Square Park (1200 Wharton St.) staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream runs through Saturday at 7 p.m. Bring a chair. The Emlen Physick Estate (1048 Washington St.) production runs from Tuesday through next Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 ($20 for seniors; $15 for students 12 and older; free for kids under 12). See capemaymac.org to purchase tickets, or call 609-884-5404.