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A Midsummer Night’s Dream                  Shakespeare Santa Cruz, 2001

Bob Fenster - Santa Cruz Sentinel

Lovers delirious turn hilarious as Shakespeare Santa Cruz opens its 20th anniversary season with a madcap version of the romantic comedy A MidsummerNight’s Dream.  Staged at a rollicking comic clip, Dream looks at what fools we can be for love and finds that while we may be mortal, our foolishness lives on.

True to SSC’s tradition of non-traditional Shakespeare, Dream plays as a cinematic comedy, with rapid scene changes, ironic delivery of the Bard’s barbed wit, and a vivid re-imagining of the creatures of the invisible world as a band of free spirits.

Director Tim Ocel, a veteran of innovative SSC comedies, makes Dream both accessible to people who haven’t seen a lot of Shakespeare and exciting fun for people who have.  While Shakespeare’s lovers have been known to confuse the audience as well as each other, Ocel and his cast keep the changeable sweethearts clear in their pursuits of a course of love that runs not smoothly but enjoyably rough.

The first set of lovers matches Hermia (Maria Dizzia) and Lysander (Daniel Passer), who scheme to elope so she won’t be forced to marry Demetrius (Mike Ryan).  As Demetrius pursues Hermia, he is in turn followed doggedly by Helena (Katie MacNichol), who loves too passionately the man who scorns her.

None of the lovers gets far into the enchanted woods before they fall under the spell of the King of the Fairies, Oberon (BruceTurk), and Puck (Triney Sandoval), the apothecary of lust.

Over the course of a stormy night, the men’s faithfulness proves fickle and the women’s love transmutable to anger, as everyone falls in love with the wrong intended, including Oberon’s Queen, Titania (Mhari Sandoval), who swoons for an ass, a bewitched would-be actor named Bottom (Tommy Gomez).

So many romantic plottings may sound confusing (and often are when turgidly staged).  But under Ocel’s direction, the complications remain fluid and risingly funny, as Shakespeare lays out the clownish possibilities of love abused, misused, beguiled and unlikely.

With many Shakespeare plays, the language may require five or 10 minutes before your ear tunes in to Shakespearean rhythms and usage.  But Dream is accessible at once without any major adjustments, and the fun is instantaneous too, as the production is paced with the same heightened sense of immediacy you find in films.

Ocel and scenic designer Dipu Gupta have some amusing surprises for the audience, none of which will be detailed here, as all surprises are too good to give away.  Dream plays in the outdoor Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen and makes effective use of both the stage’s intimacy and the redwood glen’s sense of size and power.

Obviously, staging a play in the woods works especially well when the story is set in the woods, an enchanted forest where reason and love keep little company.  When in the city, the lovers are restrained by law.  As they escape into the wilderness, passion overcomes not only law but attempts at rational thought. …

The cast is exciting throughout, with Gomez charismatic as Bottom, with his deadpan Danny De Vito takes on the predicament of a fool who suddenly finds himself the unmeritorious love object of a queen.

Without abandoning the comic intent, Hermia and Helena, doubly pursued and doubly scorned, engage in feminist skirmishes in the battle of the sexes.  When Hermia threatens Demetrius that “Henceforth, be never numbered among men,” she makes a point of exactly how that threat might be carried out.  Helena transforms, fulfilled in her vengeance, from an abused woman when unloved to a defiant one when overly pursued; while Hermia suggests that exile from the company of men may be preferable to the fickleness and arrogance of buffoons.

If you have seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, this interpretation is like paying a fond visit to a favorite classic and suddenly seeing new facets in it.  If you’ve not seen Dream before, the players will take you on a journey into a passionate fantasy, illuminating our fumbling pursuit of desire. …

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