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Saturday, Aug. 19, 2006 | It’s always fascinating to see what a director will do with Shakespeare’s work. You never know if it will be a period piece, be set in post-modern times or even both. It’s a fine line between creative innovation and going overboard with a concept for a Shakespeare piece.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most known comedies, often quoted and referenced, and it is one of three plays in the 2006 Summer Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe. The productions are at the Lowell Davies outdoor theatre which is set near the edge of a eucalyptus tree-lined canyon. Already there’s a certain touch of magic in the atmosphere, but add in Darko Dresnjak’s direction of “Midsummer” and you have fairies, moonbeams and magic with a capital “M.”
The story follows two young lovers and two of their friends as they escape their disapproving elders and flee to the forest. There they become bewitched by the mischievous fairy Puck, who casts lover’s spells on each of the friends, causing each to fall in love with their respective unintended and much confusion.
The fairytale story has sectional plots: the wedding of Theseus (J. Paul Boehmer ) and Hippolyta (Lise Bruneau), the lover’s spat between the king (Oberon) and queen (Titania) of the fairies (also played by Boehmer and Bruneau), and the four young friends in the forest. There’s also a sort of play-within-a-play subplot of a bumbling group of tailors who will be providing the entertainment at the fairy wedding.
This production starts with a school graduation, leaving the period setting rather vague. The elite (Theseus, Hippolyta) are costumed in foxhunting riding clothes and the schoolchildren are dressed like something out of a Harry Potter book.
The four friends: feisty Hermia (the talented Eve Danzeisen) swooning in forbidden love with Lysander (Owiso Odera), and frumpy Helena (Julie Desneck) who pines for the Hermia-obsessed Demetrius (David Villalobos), have graduated from school and are stealthily planning their respective rendezvous’ (or observatory mission) in the forest.
Of course, the best laid plans, and all that. This farce is no exception. There are misunderstandings and love spells cast that make the play multi-faceted.
As the exhausted Hermia and Lysander settle down for their first night, the fairies of the wood come out to play. Ravishing Lise Bruneau casts a spell over the stage as she’s brought out on her crescent-moon by the other fairies. Here the real magic begins. The delightfully clever costumes surpass the notion of “fairies-with-wings” and are earthier; leaving more to the imagination. The simple beauty of the capes of the royal fairies make them breath-taking in their simple beauty, like leaves with tiny sparks of light. Simplicity wins out against over-the-top in this production.
Boehmer commands attention as Oberon/Theseus, with crystal-clear enunciation and diction. He’s swoon-worthy, yet smarmy and cocksure. He sends his henchman fairy Puck to cast love spells over the unsuspecting. Young Michael Drummond handles the naughty role of Puck quite capably. He’s also reminiscent of little Ricky Schroeder in “The Champ” with his looks, but maybe that’s just me. He manages a nice balance between too mischievously bratty and overdone cutesiness.
The story weaves and twists far too much to go into any further here. The tightness of the performance mixed with the excellent sound engineering makes for a nice, tight production. Tere was never a time that I couldn’t understand the lines – something I’ve noticed in performances elsewhere lately. Spot-on casting makes the performance even more enjoyable. Desneck shines as the frustrated Helena, she’s fun to watch and her delivery engaging. Bottom, (Jonathan Peck) the tailor Puck turns into an ass, works the audience perfectly both as the tailor and the grotesque animal.
It’s amazing to think that most if not all of these actors and actresses have parts in the other two shows that are part of the festival, not to mention the crew.
A balmy night in Balboa Park, what could be better than adding a little fairy dust from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”