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A Midsummer Night’s Dream                  Shakespeare Santa Cruz, 2001

Mark de la Vina - San Jose Mercury News

In the opening scene of Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, women wear dresses with bustles, chairs have incised gold trim and a father has arranged for his daughter to marry a respectable soldier.  The court of Theseus is a picture of Victorian formality.  But when a redwood tree trunk is lowered to center stage, walls begin to buckle and this ceremonious world gives way to fairies, tricks and hard rock guitar riffs.  A Midsummer Night’s Merchant-Ivory Movie this ain’t.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s simple yet spirited, imaginative take on one of the most beloved comedies is intent on smashing the stodginess of reality.  Director Tim Ocel’s lively rendering accentuates the endless possibilities of Midsummer Eve, when people shed their skins and magic dictates actions.  It’s a sublime kick off to SSC’s 20th anniversary season, in which it will run in repertory with Macbeth and Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.

Staging Dream in the redwood-shaded Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen seems a no-brainer.  Theatergoers and company members have hailed the seemingly enchanted space since the company presented Dream there in1982, SSC’s inaugural season.

Yet Ocel and crew have brought fresh energy to the familiar setting.  The fairies are now pre-Raphaelite punk rockers, the young lovers have an added shot of eroticism, and the cast is rich with adroit physical comedians who consistently harvest the comedic moments from their scenes.

This crackerjack cast includes former Oregon Shakespeare Festival members Mhari Sandoval as Titania and husband Triney Sandoval as Puck.  Mhari Sandoval, though suffering from a cold during the opening performance Saturday, was nonetheless stunning in her ability to shift from heart-rending to comical to regal as the fairy queen. Triney Sandoval was charismatically gritty in his role.

Other standouts included Katie MacNichol, another festival newcomer, who was commanding as Helena, the pained young woman whose romantic advances are consistently repulsed.  As Francis Flute, Sam Misner, back for his fourth season, was the able butt of many of the jokes.  Tommy Gomez, returning to SSC as Bottom, admirably played the hapless weaver with a very funny, bloated sense of self-importance.

Another production of this play might have exploited the arboreal performance space in a much more conventional manner.  SSC’s new version not only uses the space in inventive ways but imaginatively suggests a willingness to dream.  That openness to possibilities, so inherent in the play, makes the production all the more enchanting.

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