Theater Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on February 11, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

MAGIC STAGING; SAFE CASTING

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at South Coast Rep may lack innovative subtext, but director Mark Rucker has assembled a team of co-creators who inject such a flurry of imagination and creativity into the Bard’s most accessible comedy that you may find yourself floating out of the theatre like a fairy in the forest. The standout contributor is Ken Roht, whose funky music (co-composed with John Ballinger) and electrifying choreography evoke the Bohemian spirit of artists from a creative ghetto such as L.A.’s Silver Lake; Roht infuses such a joie de vivre in his work that it seems like unbridled improvisation.

Cameron Anderson’s set as a whole is simple enough, but there are some lovely touches, such as filament light bulbs dangling within white umbrellas, which not only serve as wedding decorations, but also suggest fairies within the branches of a tree. Thanks to costumer Nephelie Andonyadis, that trickster imp Puck (Rob Campbell) has one leg in a ratty fish-net stocking and a high heel, while a punk boot adorns the other. Campbell’s world-weary, androgynous take on Puck is fascinating — an aging circuit boy combined with a jaded emcee from Berlin Cabarets of the 1930s.

The acting ranges from highly original (Nick Gabriel’s nerdy Lysander) to serviceable (Elijah Alexander’s lumberjack-like Oberon) to simply incongruous (Tobie Windham, who rocked in Rucker’s Marcus at A.C.T., seems simply out of place as the willful lover Demetrius). Clever staging is one thing, but en bloc, innovative casting is lacking here. Quite a few actors on display have appeared at SCR before (at least 12 of the 19 performers); no one can deny the reasons why it is less stressful to work with actors one is familiar with, but, as capable and fun as this crew is – serving up their personalities with élan and polished technique – most offer a very straightforward rendering. The casting feels safe, even though some do offer clever interpretations of the dialogue, such as Kathleen Early as Hermia. That will not hinder your enjoyment of Dream, but it does keep the joy from resonating once you have floated out of the theater. (In the case of Patrick Kerr’s oft-seen deadpan technique, a clear-cut performance can still elicit the hardiest of laughs, especially when his Bottom transforms from deadpan to hammy when he plays Pyramus.)

One wonders how resonant this Dream would have been with more distinctive actors; still, there are laughs to be had and you will have a darn good time. Rucker’s production proves that inventive staging can create some lovely magic, even if just for that moment.

photos by Henry DiRocco/SCR

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa
ends on February 20, 2011
for tickets, visit SCR

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