By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
A high-energy, visually stunning production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is now on display at South Coast Repertory.
Director Mark Rucker’s vision here is not placed in the stereotypical enchanted forest but in an “in your face” mid-20th century world, populated by fairies who are rock music-infused hippies here. Within this fanciful world, King Oberon (Elijah Alexander) and his queen,Titania (Susannah Schulman) rule over a colorful realm, a world of tattoos, Mohawk haircuts, colorful arrays of thrift shop attire. All is appropriate for a sixties love-in with resident free spirits gyrating to a heavy beat.
This is a groovy, sensual world ready to put-on and turn-on. The city people who enter these confines become abundant fodder for practical jokes and hilarious pranks as delivered by Oberon and his retinue – many perched on a rock wall, to receive commands.
Puck (an outstanding Rob Campbell) is Oberon’s right-hand henchman. No respectful servant he but one with a Mick Jagger-like swagger, taking his orders with an obstinate sneer and a sarcastic rejoinder.
Into this world steal the young people, escaping the strictures of Athenian court life. Making up the foursome are Hermia (Kathleen Early) and Lysander (Nick Gabriel), lovers but without necessary parental approval. They are followed by Demetrius (Toby Windham), who languishes over Hermia, and Helena (Dana Green), who desires Lysander, herself. They become pawns for Oberon and his charges who administer all kinds of hilarious indignities on them, But finally everything works out even though, as a fairy remarks: “Love and reason keep little company together.”
The actors are all excellent, especially Green’s Helena and Early’s Hermia. In a move of genius-casting, the tall and statuesque Green towers over the short Hermia. As well, both Schulman and Alexander stand out in dual roles as Theseus and Hippolyta, rulers in Athens, and as the king and queen of the forest.
A funny running gag is, under royal orders, the invisible fairies deftly steal articles of clothing from the couple. At the end the lovers are barely clad.
Also an amusing highlight is the showdown over Lysander between Green’s Helena and Early’s Hermia who complains that Helena is perpetrating height prejudice: “…she hath made compare between our statures…and prevail’d with him …because I am so dwarfish.”
Meanwhile in another part of the forest a crew of bumbling but well intentioned tradesmen have come to rehearse a play to perform at court. In this section, Shakespeare sends-up pretentious productions about mythological beings. As always, this part is a crowd-pleaser as the motley crew stumbles through the performance. It is good to see three of SCR’s founders, Hal Landon Jr, Richard Doyle and John David-David Keller as part of the bunch.
Playing the most prominent of the workers, Patrick Kerr is very effective as Bottom, a weaver. During the rehearsal, Puck magically gives him the head of an ass. Seeing this, the companions flea, leaving him subject to Oberon’s mischief. Ultimately, Bottom ends up as Titania’s unlikely lover.
Cameron Anderson’s scenic design is commanding with its snake-in-the-garden-of-Eden backdrop in the sumptuous court scene opening. Later, the setting is transformed into a sparkling star-lit forest with Titania’s tree-trunk bower illuminated by a crescent moon. Finally, Nephelie Andonyadis’ costumes are an ingenious mash-up from a wide range of fashion eras.
“Midsummer” can be seen on SCR’s Segerstrom Stage through Feb. 20.