Theater Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Shotgun Players in Berkeley)

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by Chuck Louden on March 25, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

Some consider A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tributes to love: both romantic and platonic. “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

Veronica Renner and Jamin Jollo

At Shotgun Players, there is a lot of love for humanity in all its diverse glory. In a context of 2024 sensibilities, director William Thomas Hodgson gives a nod to the days when Shakespeare’s plays traditionally had been performed by men in women’s roles. This show offers a similar tradition but with several of the roles played in a non-traditional color-blind gender-bending way that embraces the fluidity of some of the characters, particularly the fairies.

Celeste Kamiya and Fenner Merlick

The story begins celebrating an upcoming wedding. Set in Athens Greece, Queen Hippolyta is set to marry her captor Theus. A high-spirited group of musicians decide to gift the couple with a performance for the wedding. However in the nearby enchanted forest of love, a royal romp of young lovers are in chase of one another aided and abetted by Puck, a mischievous gleeful fairy. This leads to mistaken intentions and identities which creates a lot of delight. Puck (Jamin Jollo) and Oberon (Veronica Renner) capture the free spirit and ambiguity of the fairies as they frolic about manipulating humans.

The Company

Costumer Ashley Renee, assisted by Madeline Berger, creates a thrift-store gallimaufry of colors and styles, with some impressive head pieces. The multi-tiered set by Sarah Phykitt of the enchanted forest creates lots of caverns and holes for the actors to appear and disappear with ease. Natalie Greene and Leah Hammond‘s witty movement keeps the show moving. Erika Oba‘s original music — mixed by Sara Witsch — adds to this fun and whimsical production, which includes some interaction with the audience.

Oscar Woodrow III and Radhika Rao

From the opening scene the show moves full speed ahead. Dialogue — spoken with a combination of iambic pentameter and modern English — is delivered at a rapid pace. Even though the actors attempt to articulate their words, it’s often difficult to keep up and understand what’s going on (dramaturg & voice coach Philippa Kelly). And keeping up with the plot in Midsummer is tough enough. Still, watching this production gleefully throwing out every preconceived notion of what A Midsummer Night’s Dream can or should be, is a hoot. In terms of design, casting, music, and interpretation, it breaks all the rules, while still remaining true to the text. This allows the production to appeal to not only hard-core Shakespeare fans, but first time audiences.

Matt Standley and Susannah Martin

The ensemble includes Rolanda D. Bell, Devin Cunningham, Woody Harper, Celeste Kamiya, Susanah Martin, Fenner MerlickRadhika Rao, Kevin Rebultan, and Matt Standley.

photos by Ben Krantz

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shotgun Players
Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. in Berkeley
ends on April 14, 2024 EXTENDED to April 27, 2024
for tickets ($28-$38), visit Shotgun Players

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