A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer Jana Marcu

Photo by Jana Marcus

By Philip Pearce

SANTA CRUZ SHAKESPEARE has launched its third season as a production team and its first in a newly-built amphitheatre in DeLaveaga Park with a production of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So, try as I may, the announcement of a new version tends to produce a ho-hum. But the show now on stage in the DeLaveaga Grove is a pleasure to watch, even for a Shakespeare curmudgeon like me. It rolls merrily along, it’s attractively cast and staged, and director Terri McMahon, without changing plot or characters, has added some interesting new elements.

I liked it that Philostrate, traditionally Duke Theseus’s Master of Revels, is played by Larry Paulson as a balding control freak. Before the show starts, he sets furniture and props, controls a gaggle of visiting fairies and gives the audience a fuss-budget warning about photography and electronic communications gear.

I liked that the fairies, before being called by Philostrate, are curled up snoozing all around the theater as we spectators arrive at our seats. I liked the way the fairies, when not in action, hang around and up on four huge metal columns topped by foliage made from assorted wooden chairs.

I was initially startled but eventually reconciled to Larry Paulson (who did such nice things as Philostrate) offering us a Puck who is nearly as stridently oratorical a windbag as Bottom the Weaver.

I liked seeing the fairy gang join Cody Nickell’s authoritative Oberon as invisible spectators at everything that happens in the wood near Athens on Midsummer Night. Clustered around their magician-boss, they help him control and choreograph the romantic tizzy fits and mock battles of the adolescent lovers, which become a kind of running basketball or hockey game supported by excited fans.

Shakespeare’s script makes the two love-struck females more interesting than their male suitors. Katherine Ko is a tiny, whirling dynamo as Hermia, and Mary Cavett is raucous, touching and hilarious as Helena. Kyle Hester and Brian Smolin find some useful ways of turning Lysander and Demetrius into something more than a pair of indistinguishable plot devices.

Then there are always those awkward proletarian actors. Their struggles with the blocking and syntax of Pyramus and Thisbe can be a really tiresome embarrassment when they’re allowed to overact. Here, they are headed by an assistant librarian-type known as Penny Quince, played prim and funny by Kate Eastwood Norris, and, as a troupe, they aren’t half bad, though I think Bernard K. Addison as Bottom fares best in his ass-headed moments with Mia Ellis’s lovely Titania.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through August 28th, after July 26th in repertory with Hamlet, featuring Kate Eastwood Norris in the title role.