In his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom, that honcho of hermeneutics, informs us that every stage production he's ever seen of A Midsummer Night's Dream was a "brutal disaster." This production, by the Curan Repertory, was neither brutal nor a disaster. Rather, it is a bareboned, modernistic version whose slapstick elements were its strongest suit.
The backdrop of the play is the impending matrimony of Theseus (Roger Ansanelli), Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta (Marit DeLozier). But the plot is actually set in motion by, oddly enough, a child custody battle between Oberon (Mr. Ansanelli), king of the fairies, and his wife Titania (Ms. DeLozier). Oberon wants to enlist a certain Indian boy as a page. Titania, who is raising the boy, refuses to give him up. With the help of his fairy helper Puck (Billy Kreg), Oberon decides to get even by using a love potion against Titania. The potion is mishandled, however, and the lives of two pairs of lovers, Lysander (Steven Peacock Jacoby) and Hermia (Sarah Kay), and Demetrius (J.R. Dziengel) and Helena (Joella Devone), are turned upside down as a result of it. Meanwhile, a play is being rehearsed, to be performed at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, by a group of rustic dummies, chief among them being Nick Bottom (Jim Kohn). Their play is hilariously awful; the performers involved in its execution were right on the money in their blissful depiction of thespian incompetence. These two stories are connected mainly through Bottom, as Titania mistakenly falls in love with him after she's given the potion; by now Bottom has acquired the head of an ass, courtesy of Puck (ah, those wacky fairies). The romantic relationships among the two pairs of lovers is a central part of the play.
Ms. Devone and Ms. Kay were sturdy as Helena and Hermia, respectively; and Mr. Jacoby was especially strong as Lysander. But Mr. Dziengel, though hardworking, was simply miscast as Demetrius. He did not appear old enough for the role. The impression he left was of a goofy high school student who's trying to land a date for the junior prom. This feeling was notably apparent when he confronted Lysander. It made for a rather unbalanced, even lopsided engagement, thereby vitiating the lilting, sensuous poetry used by Shakespeare to describe the couples' romantic travails.
The other performers were more suited to their roles. Among the standouts was Mr. Ansanelli as a sardonic Oberon; Ms. Delozier as his sweet but surprisingly stubborn wife Titania; and Billy Kreg's Puck, charmingly mischievous in his silver pants and goggles.
Ken Terrell, the director, kept the action moving at a swift pace; the production was never boring. He used the house lights to illuminate a stage that was mostly empty except for a few wooden boxes and benches. The sound was likewise minimal. Costumes were of contemporary issue; for the play-within-a-play, Bottom wore a cute little number that would have made Liberace murderous with envy.
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Copyright 1999 Steve Gold