Marin Shakespeare Company gives us ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with a Hawaiian punch

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 3/5 Stars » Recommended)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream  is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and accessible plays. It is a lighthearted and magical fairy tale, uncomplicated and fun, easy to understand. It also contains some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful verse, and carries a deep undertow of meanings about the madness of love. Of all the plays in the canon, it is perhaps most amenable to adaptation to varying visions. I have seen it played as a children’s story as gentle as Hans Christian Andersen. That worked. I have seen it played with a Puck dressed in leather who sadistically whips the hapless lovers into a frenzy only so he can laugh at their desperation. That worked. And now I’ve seen it played as over-the-top slapstick, a sort of National Lampoon goes Shakespeare in Hawaii. It works.

The evening begins with an explosion of Polynesian drumming. The stage set features two gigantic tiki totem poles, unmistakably anatomically correct. The young lovers are prep school teenagers. Oberon is a Polynesian god in full regalia, stomping about with wild abandon, communicating with authentic Polynesian sign language. Puck meets Oberon gesture for gesture, howling and roaring and rushing about like an animated baby volcano as might be imagined by the Walt Disney Company. Titania’s court sings and dances the Hula. It’s all lovely.

If you don’t already know the story, don’t worry. While it is too complicated to summarize, it is as easy as pie to follow on stage. Relax and enjoy.

This is a very, very funny Midsummer. The famous mechanicals (a group of workmen preparing to put on a play for the Duke’s wedding) are a hoot. Director Robert Currier allows his actors to play fast and loose with Shakespeare’s language, dropping occasional contemporary references with good effect, while not overdoing it. Jarion Monroe’s bossy buck-toothed Bottom is particularly hilarious. Quince, the organizer of the revel, is amusingly played by Stephen Muterspaugh as a misplaced New Yorker, apparently having wandered in from a Woody Allen film. It’s funny.

(from l to r) James Hiser is Puck and Scott Coopwood is Oberon in Marin Shakespeare Company’s Hawaiian take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Robert Currier. Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin.

Don’t worry, though, that in all this slapstick the magic will be lost. The fairies’ lullaby, performed as a hula dance with a Polynesian melody is quite enchanting. And the gorgeous language is treated with respect throughout, even amidst all the slapstick.

And this is definitely a slapstick production, with plenty of mugging, shoving and loving. The fight among the lovers, deteriorating into a Jerry Springer style free-for-all wrestling match is a howler. As is the comic centerpiece of the play, the play-within-a-play by the mechanicals. Watch for Alexander Lenarsky’s exuberant Flute!

This is refreshingly ridiculous Shakespeare, as ephemeral as a luau on the beach beneath a meteor shower from the summer you first fell in love. And almost as sweet.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at Marin Shakespeare Company through September 30. For further information, click here.

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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, produced by Marin Shakespeare Company. Director: Robert Currier. Set: Mark Robinson. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Choreographer: Cynthia Pepper. 

Duke Thesus: Damien Seperi. Hippolyta: Sylvia Burboeck. Egeus: Jack Halton. Hermia: Jessica Salans. Lysander: Brandon Mears. Demetrius: Evan Bartz. Helena: Luisa Frasconi. Attendant to Duke Thesus: Sean Mirkovich. Bottom: Jarion Monroe. Quince: Stephen Muterspaugh. Flute: Alexander Lenarsky. Snout: George Q. Nguyen. Starveling: Amy Lizardo. Snug: Jai Sahai. Titania: Cat Thompson. Oberon: Scott Coopwood. Puck: James Hiser. Peaseblossom: Ashley Rose McKenna. Cobweb: Megan Putnam. Moth: Hannah Jester. Mustardseed: Shana Tinkle. A Changeling Child: Jacob Trejo. 

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