Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' Enchants And Innovates at the Bruns Amphitheater

Photo: <b>Fairy magic.</b> Oberon and Puck work their mischief on the sleeping Titania in Cal Shakes' production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'
Kevin Berne/Courtesy
Fairy magic. Oberon and Puck work their mischief on the sleeping Titania in Cal Shakes' production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'

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Though we have already reached the beginning of October, Cal Shakes is dreaming it's still midsummer with, you guessed it, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," co-produced by the Two River Theater Company. The Bruns Amphitheater provides the perfect setting for Shakespeare's tale of misbegotten love and marriage, as the crickets mingle with the actor's voices and the set extends infinitely into the starry sky. Under the direction of Aaron Posner, this is a magical, creative and continually surprising production worth braving a chilly autumn night to enjoy.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is one of Shakespeare's most popular works, entwining several tales of love and jealousy. Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Keith Randolph Smith), has won his Amazonian bride Hippolyta (Pegge Johnson) in battle and prepares for their marriage. To entertain at their wedding, a band of roguish Athenian thespians prepares a ridiculous play. Meanwhile, four young Athenian youths struggle to sort out who loves whom, made more complicated by the mischief of the fairy world, headed by Titania the fairy queen (Johnson again) and Oberon the king (Smith). This classic, convoluted tale is sprinkled with many of Shakespeare's most beloved insults. What could burn worse than calling a spurned lover an acorn?

Cal Shakes' production finds its success through magic and meddling, most of it delivered by the roguish Puck (Doug Hara) and Oberon. Rather than standing aside to passively observe the lovers in their finer moments of absurdity, these two otherwordlies invisibly involve themselves in the confusion to hilarious effect. Puck impresses with his sleight of hand, and haunting sound effects add to the show's mystery.

If there were some creative adjective to combine "wonderful" and "delightful" and a hundred other pleasing words, Danny Scheie's Nick Bottom would earn it as an epitaph. Contorting each syllable to suit his flamboyant character, Scheie can squeeze giggles from the audience by simply standing there, doing nothing more than grinning. It's hard to go wrong with Bottom, an innately crowd-pleasing ass of a character, but Scheie delivers an especially gratifying, gayed-up rendition. In Posner's version of "Midsummer," Bottom and Flute the Bellows-Mender are far from uncomfortable playing lovers in their play-within-a-play. They enjoyed it. A lot.

Richard Thieriot fully fills the douchebaggy shoes of Demetrius, Avery Monsen plays a charming wimp as Lysander and Lindsey Gates is a perfect gangling, self-pitying Helena. This leaves the problem of Hermia. On the page, she is a defiant yet elegant character, but Erin Weaver makes her a bulldog, so much that by the time she threw a punch at Lysander's nose in the third act, it is completely expected-though still applauded. Would Hermia's rage be funnier if it bursted from a more soft-spoken character? Probably. Nevertheless, Weaver's headstrong interpretation is interesting for its novelty, like so many things in this production.

At the tail of three hours, all that has to happen is a simple, neat ending to finish an enchanting evening. But remember that confused, slightly uncomfortable feeling at the end of "Slumdog Millionaire"? When a tender climax was overrun by a boogie sequence? So ends Posner's "Midsummer," in a bizarre musical number better suited to a dance at an ice skating rink in a 1980s film that culminates in a high-five-freeze-frame. Mixing in Puck's "If we shadows have offended" epilogue with a corny song entreating the audience to dream more or something, it is all a few jazz-hands too Disney.

On the whole, Posner's risks were more often successes than failures, including the many musical additions to the script. Shakespeare may excuse "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the epilogue as a "weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream," but Posner's memorable production yielded more than a few laughs to last to the morning.

Send lines 3.2.451-52 to Hannah at [email protected]

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